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Authors: Susan Gloss

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April couldn’t live with those sorts of odds of getting sick during the SAT. She had bombed it when she took it in November, just weeks after her mom’s accident. She needed to do well the second time around to have a shot at getting any of the scholarships she’d applied for. With that in mind, she had thrown away the white paper pharmacy bag without opening it. She went on to ace the SAT, earning a perfect score on the math section. Unfortunately, she also aced the at-home pregnancy test she took two weeks later.

And that was how she’d ended up here, dry-heaving over the kitchen sink.

The doorbell rang and April straightened her back, startled. She went out to the foyer, where, through the leaded glass window, she saw a gray-haired woman in a suit and sunglasses standing on the front porch.

Shit,
thought April. It was Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett, a member of the local women’s organization that had awarded her a full college scholarship. April had forgotten about the meeting they’d scheduled.

April opened the door and tried to shield her body with it. She hadn’t yet told anyone from the scholarship committee about her pregnancy. “Hi, Mrs. Barrett.”

The older woman stepped inside. “Good morning.” She removed her sunglasses and tucked them into her handbag, which was enormous and bright yellow. And probably expensive.

“I like your purse,” April said.

“You don’t need to suck up to me, dear. You’ve already got the scholarship. Unless you’re trying to get me to leave you something in my will, which seems to be the reason most people kiss my rear. And if that’s it, I’ve got news for you, honey. I’m not planning on dying any time soon.”

“Okay,” April said, taken aback. “But I wasn’t sucking up. I really do like the bag. And I’m
definitely
not after an inheritance. I’ve got enough problems trying to deal with my mom’s estate.”

The word “estate” was misleading, April thought. Before her mom died, she’d always thought the word implied some sort of wealth. She learned she was wrong after seeing all the letters from banks trying to collect debts from the nonexistent assets of her mom’s “estate.” Now she just piled all the letters up and dropped them off periodically at the lawyer’s office.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” April asked.

“No, thank you, I’m fine,” said Mrs. Barrett. “Let’s just have a seat.”

April led her into the living room. They sat down opposite one another in worn wing chairs.

“So.” Mrs. Barrett leaned forward. “One of the other committee members stopped by your school to drop off some forms for you the other day.”

April sucked in her breath. She was busted.

“The front office said you’ve been absent lately. Have you been ill?”

By reflex, April folded her arms in front of her midsection. “Not exactly.”

“April,” said the older woman after a pause. “Why do you think I’m here today?”

April sat up straighter. “I thought I was required to meet with you as a condition of my scholarship. That’s what you said on the phone, anyway.”

“That’s not entirely true. Well, for you it is.” Mrs. Barrett repositioned a gold watch on her bony wrist. “What I mean is, in the past we haven’t required other scholarship recipients to meet with a committee member. But because of your special circumstances, having lost your mother so recently, we thought it would be a good idea to make sure someone checks in on you.”

April couldn’t decide whether to be touched or annoyed. She was so tired of everyone feeling sorry for her. Most of her interactions lately were stripped down, sanitized through a filter of pity. What people didn’t know, though, was that April had been taking care of herself for years, even before her mom died. There were plenty of times when her mom was so out of it that April had to do everything around the house: grocery shop, renew the license plates, make sure the bills got paid.

“You can tell me what’s going on,” Mrs. Barrett said. “I won’t tell the rest of the committee, not if you don’t want me to.”

“Okay, but you can’t tell anyone else. Not yet, anyway,” April said. She figured there was probably no point in lying. It would be impossible to hide her condition soon enough, if it wasn’t already. Recently she’d caught a lot of people staring at her belly. That shop lady with the tattoo, Violet, had done it the other day at the vintage store.

“I won’t tell anybody,” Mrs. Barrett said. “That is, unless you’ve committed a crime.”

“Well, it’s not a crime as far as I know,” April said. “I’m pregnant.”

April had only uttered those words aloud once before, to Charlie, after she’d taken the home pregnancy test. He’d responded with a marriage proposal.

Mrs. Barrett’s response was less enthusiastic. She looked shocked, and April was certain she was going to lose her scholarship on the spot. Surprisingly, the realization didn’t sting very much. April
wanted
it to sting, wanted to feel any sort of sensation other than the hollow ache she’d been feeling since Charlie left. Losing him so soon after losing her mom, though in a different way, burned like ripping the bandage from a still-seeping wound.

“You can’t just drop out of high school,” Mrs. Barrett said. “If you’re embarrassed or worried about what your classmates will think, I’m sure we can talk to your teachers and figure something out.”

“I’m not embarrassed,” April said. “I didn’t stop going to class just because I’m pregnant. I was also bored.”

Mrs. Barrett put a hand to her temple. “I have to say this is terribly disappointing. How will you be able to go to college if you don’t graduate high school?”

“I’d still like to go to college. I took the GED already.”

There,
thought April.
I’m not a
complete
fuckup.

Mrs. Barrett opened her mouth, then shut it again. She shook her head.

“I passed,” April said. “And I already sent my scores to the University of Wisconsin. The admissions committee said they were fine, in terms of holding my place in the freshman class. I should have taken the GED months ago, really. I could have saved all that time I spent sitting in class.”

April knew she was acting defensive with Mrs. Barrett, maybe even cocky. But one of the main reasons she’d stopped showing up at the high school was that everybody, from her guidance counselor to the lunch lady, seemed to think they knew what was best for her. They didn’t hesitate in sharing their opinions but never asked April about her own.

“I’m assuming the fact that you’re telling me all of this means you’re planning to keep the baby,” Mrs. Barrett said.

April nodded. She knew Mrs. Barrett probably expected her to say what a difficult decision it had been, how she’d considered all of her choices, including adoption, but that would have been a lie. April knew what it was like to lose a mother, and she couldn’t put another person through it.

“I don’t have children,” Mrs. Barrett said. “But I’ve managed to stay busy all these years with my charity work. I’m not sure I would’ve had time to do it all if I
did
have a family.”

April realized she must have looked scared, because Mrs. Barrett continued. “Not that I’m saying you can’t have children and still do other things you want to do in life, necessarily. And
that’s
what we should talk about. If you haven’t been going to your classes, what have you been doing with your time?”

April looked out the window. The peony bush her mom had planted several summers ago on the side of the house was now blooming a brilliant pink. Peonies had been her mother’s favorite flower. April thought they were a rather unstable plant. The flowers were too showy for their own good; the stems often flopped toward the ground under the weight of the huge blossoms.

She turned her face back toward Mrs. Barrett. “Well, I’m still going to my advanced calculus course at the university, so I can get the credits, but that ends in a couple of weeks,” she said.

April didn’t mention that the main reason she kept going to her college-level class was that she hoped to run into Charlie on campus. She knew he had some science classes in the same building she went to for calc. They’d met when the building was evacuated for a fire alarm in the fall. April had stood shivering on the sidewalk waiting for the firemen to let the students go back inside, and Charlie had offered her his sweatshirt. She still remembered the way it smelled, of pine needles and Ivory soap.

After that, they’d started studying together. April also began spending the night sometimes at Charlie’s apartment on campus, telling her mother she was staying at a girlfriend’s house. She hated lying to her mom, but she was willing to do almost anything to spend a series of uninterrupted hours with Charlie, lying skin to skin and sharing secrets underneath the billows of his down comforter—a shield from the petty, perpetually boring world of high school, which April couldn’t wait to leave behind.

Her mom didn’t approve of the relationship. The few times April had brought him over for dinner, Kat had thought Charlie was sweet enough, but she worried that, because he was older, he would soon move on and break her daughter’s heart.

Charlie’s parents didn’t approve of the situation, either, but for different reasons. Judy and Trip Cabot thought it was inappropriate for their son to be dating a girl who was still in high school, and they worried about what people would think. Even before they had a chance to meet April, they pressured Charlie to break up with her. After April’s mom died, though, the Cabots softened their stance. They didn’t accompany Charlie to the funeral, since they’d never met Kat or even April, but they did invite April to spend Thanksgiving with them just a few weeks later.

April remembered how intimidated she’d been, not just by the Cabots’ towering Tudor-style home, but also by Judy Cabot’s forced smile and sharp gaze, which seemed to absorb and assess everything upon which it fell. Though Judy was coolly polite that day and Trip bordered on friendly, April sensed that if it weren’t for her dead mother, she wouldn’t have been invited.

Once during the evening, when April was returning from a visit to the marble-tiled powder room, she overheard Judy say, “Charlie, you only need to set three wineglasses at the table. April is barely old enough to drive, let alone to drink.”

“I don’t get why April’s age is such a big deal to you, Mom,” Charlie had said. “Dad is seven years older than you.”

“That’s different. I didn’t have four or more years of medical school ahead of me when we started dating. And anyway, I was twenty-one when we met. April is seventeen.”

I’ll be eighteen next week,
April had wanted to say, but she didn’t want them to know she’d heard.

As the weeks went by and the accident inched further into the past, the Cabots became less subtle about their objections to Charlie and April’s relationship—or Judy did, anyway, taking every opportunity she could to express her displeasure. Trip didn’t say much, not even when Charlie broke the news of the pregnancy and engagement to his parents that March. Judy had started crying at the dining room table, tears dripping down her tastefully made-up face and onto the grilled salmon on her plate.

Mrs. Barrett, too, looked disappointed now as she shifted in her chair and asked April, “So other than the few hours a week when you’re in class and the time you spend studying, what else have you been doing? Do you have a job?”

April looked at the hardwood floor. “No,” she muttered. She’d been living off the small stores of cash her mom had hidden around the house during her bouts of paranoid mania—behind the microwave, in the cookie jar, under the loose tile in the bathroom. April saved money by spending most of her time at home, watching reality TV and feeling sorry for herself. In fact, she’d been so lethargic and listless that she wondered if she was starting to show symptoms of her mom’s mental illness. Her mother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was in college, and the disease had a strong genetic component—a heritability rate of 71 percent, according to an article April had read. As she approached her twenties, she lived with the fear that she could develop it any day now.

“Well, you’ll need to get a job, or an internship or
something,
” said Mrs. Barrett. “It’s only May. We can’t have you just moping around until you start college in the fall. Speaking of which, when is this baby due?”

“Labor Day. Ironic, isn’t it?” April let out a halfhearted laugh. “Can I delay starting college until the spring semester?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Mrs. Barrett. “If you decide not to enroll in the fall, the committee will have to offer the scholarship to someone else.”

“I guess I’ll need to find someone to watch the baby when I’m in class.” April figured Mrs. Barrett was probably right about getting a job or an internship. She needed something to get her out of this house and, if possible, keep her from going crazy.

“Have you thought about what sort of summer job might interest you?” Mrs. Barrett asked.

April played with a strand of hair. “Who’s going to hire a pregnant teenager?”

“I’ll make some calls.” Mrs. Barrett got up and slung her purse over her shoulder. “I’ve got a lot of connections in this city.”

Chapter 3

INVENTORY ITEM
: sari

APPROXIMATE DATE
: 1968

CONDITION
: good; small water stain near the hem

ITEM DESCRIPTION
: Orange sari made from silk dupioni with gold paisley design.

SOURCE
: Amithi Singh

Amithi

IN A METERED PARKING
space in front of Hourglass Vintage, Amithi turned off the car ignition with one hand and clutched her cell phone with the other.

“Dad keeps leaving me messages,” said her daughter, Jayana, on the other end. “I’m not calling him back until you tell me what’s going on with the two of you.”

“That’s between your father and me,” Amithi said.

It had been almost a month since she had accompanied her husband, Naveen, to Chicago for an engineering conference at which he was scheduled to present a paper. They’d driven there together in the same silver Honda Amithi sat in now, looking forward to spending a weekend in the city. The trip hadn’t gone the way either of them had planned, though, and culminated with Amithi driving back to Madison a day early, alone, in the middle of the night.

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