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Tears escaped Grace’s palms and fell to the bathroom floor. Locks of her wavy blond hair fell in between her fingertips and she tugged on them lightly to make sure she was indeed awake. Three small plus signs on three test strips confirmed what the nausea and a delayed period had scared her into hoping wasn’t true. She sat in the school bathroom, stifling the pathetic sounds she made in case another soul wandered into her pit of shame and misery. She sat there until the bell rang and it was 4th period and she’d be late to math class.
“It’s not the end of the world, you know?” Rachel chided her. “Go get the surgery and it will be like it had never happened.”
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“But what if my parents find out?”
“They can’t. There are laws for this sort of thing. Daddy’s a lawyer and he says that those kinds of records are sealed.”
She said nothing for the rest of lunch, intent on talking to Billy first. The way he talked to her, she thought he’d want a say. In the back of her mind, Grace wished for him to marry her on the spot and let them be a family. That would be nice. More than nice, ideal. They had no classes together this term, so she’d have to wait until he was done with baseball practice, which she’d done all season at that point. She sat on the hood of his old pick up truck, a 99 Chevy S-10 and watched the songbirds flocking back from their Southern hiatus. A few flowers were budding early, but it would still be another month or so before they were in full bloom. Grace rubbed her stomach at the thought and settled into the idyllic motherhood she’d seen in old movies and television shows.
One hundred years ago, she could be married. Even fifty years ago, it was not out of the ordinary. Her older cousin had just had her first baby at age thirty-four. The baby was underweight and sickly, but loved and a voracious eater. Grace never held him, thinking babies were parasitic to her ambitions, even second-hand. Worry flooded her that she wouldn’t know how to hold it and accidentally kill it in her untrained arms. Maybe it was better to get rid of it now before she got attached to it. Before it had eyes and toes and a heartbeat. Before doing it was murder or worse, a tragic accident born from ignorance. If she did it now, it was a choice. It was in her hands. And it wasn’t murder. At least, that was what she was told, though point A did not connect with point B and the more she questioned the logic of it, the harder she swung towards the surgery. Why not, if it was her choice and the word parasite latched onto her brain stem again.
Billy sauntered over to the pick-up, his glove hanging off the back of his metal bat and his cleats tied around them to keep the whole collage together. His wide boyish smile won her over again, like she was seeing him for the first time, a brand new suitor in her life. She hoped he could be so much more. Billy’s father ran the Cadillac dealership a town over. His grandfather started it in the fifties and she was sure he would be running it one day, a good living for the three of them and maybe more. She was sitting on the hood of the dilapidated pick-up and what she once found charming about the old, loud machine, she now saw as a death trap. The passenger airbag could be turned on and off. The heating barely worked in the Winter. She had to hand roll the windows in the Summer. There was a hole somewhere that made the whole vehicle sound like a lawn mower. He kept approaching and her flirty smile soured into a disappointed frown.
“Hey, Babe, what’s up?”
“Why do you drive this piece of shit? Your dad could give you a much nicer car, but you ride around like a day laborer. It’s embarrassing. I’m embarrassed riding with you.”
He looked at her sideways and when it was apparent that she wasn’t kidding, he rolled his neck around his shoulders and looked at her like they were boxers in the fifteenth round. She didn’t know why she picked the fight, but seeing his response made her dig her heels in. He’d have to apologize and until then, the pregnancy was in the back of her mind.
“I like my truck. I’ve done a lot of work on it. I’m proud of it. If you’re embarrassed riding in it, you can walk home.”
He got it and waited for her to open her door. She got off the hood and stomped her feet, opening the passenger door and buckling in, making sure not to look at him the whole time. As they pulled out of the lot, neither of them spoke. A father and son were out in field now, setting up for little league practice. The two stood in the field and threw the ball around until the other boys showed up and Grace thought about the baby again. If he was a boy, Billy could be his baseball coach. He could learn softball, too and teach their daughter. All the hurt feelings she had melted away and she rubbed her stomach again, beaming at Billy, who was slow and thought they were still fighting.
“I love you, Billy”, she said a bit louder than a whisper, delicate not to burst the silence they’d built.
“I don’t get you sometimes, Grace. What’s your deal? I mean, you treat me like dirt and then you tell me you love me.”
She wanted to blurt it out at once and let him do with it what he will. Just shout it. At the top of her lungs. But what if he freaked out? What if the shock made him crash the truck? What if he got angry? Maybe it was better to not say anything. All the hoping and praying wouldn’t change who he was. He was just a boy and this was a man’s news. She could just get the surgery and he’d never know and they could go on being happy. She looked back out her window and saw the town pass by. There were a lot more strollers rolling down the street than she remembered. Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes and it took a few moments of dry heaving to keep them at bay.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, as he white knuckled the steering wheel.
“I’m pregnant!” It came down like a broken dam and the torrent of water washed over her face and she was back in her palms. She felt him pull the truck over and he started rubbing her back, telling her it was okay and after a few minutes, she dared to believe him. They were on Main Street and the town was small enough that the whole scene was bound to be public knowledge soon, so Billy started the truck again and took off for somewhere more private. They went to Jenkins park, ironic, since it was possible that was where the baby was conceived. Grace wondered if that was intentional, but knowing Billy, she doubted it. She dried her tears as he parked the truck and got out, shaking his head. Grace followed, grabbing his hand.
“You tell anyone else?”
He chewed on that like it meant something, but to her it was trivial.
“What do you want to do?”q
What do I want to do? I want to slap the shit out of you for asking that? We’re having a baby, not getting dinner.
“I don’t know. I wanted to tell you first.”
“And it’s definitely… I mean, I’m the…”
You unbelievable bastard.
“Yeah, Billy”, she spat at him, “You’re the father. And I’m gonna be the mother and we’re going to live happily ever after.” She rolled her eyes. She regretted it as he started kicking the rocks around them. Then he kicked the back tire of the Chevy. Then he spat and started cursing, his back to her the whole time. The image she had cracked and it was clear Billy wasn’t keen on selling Cadillacs and coaching little league. He turned towards her, his face flush.
“I was going to commit to Vanderbilt. The scouts were over at the house two weeks ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? That’s good news.”
“Yeah, great news.”
They didn’t talk much after that. It was starting to get dark and they both got back in the truck and Billy drove off to her house. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, they had a fight and patched things up.
“When were you going to tell me about Vanderbilt? Tennessee is pretty far.”
“I don’t know. I guess I hadn’t made up my mind 100% until the whole thing was taken from me.”
“I didn’t take anything from you, Billy. You’re the one who said you didn’t need a condom.”
“I didn’t mean you. Just-”, he took a breath, “just life in general.”
“Life didn’t do this to us, either. We did it. Both of us. I was hoping you’d get that.”
“I don’t get it, okay. Maybe I’m not as mature or as smart as you, Grace. Having a kid wasn’t in my plans, okay? I’ve got a real shot to play meaningful baseball. Maybe even professionally. There weren’t just college scouts at the games last season.”
He pulled up in front of her house. The lawn mower sound she bemoaned earlier was hypnotic and even comforting. It was the only warmth she felt in the cab.
“We can do whatever you want, okay? If you want to keep it, you can move in with my parents while I go to school. Or maybe we can find a place in Nashville. Or, I get drafted and I can get some real money.”
“I didn’t even know you were that into baseball. I thought it was just a high school sport.”
He was quiet for a moment. “It’s pretty clear we don’t know each other all that well, Grace. Let me know what you want to do. If you tell your folks, let me know. My parents will be more pissed the longer I don’t tell them.”
She forgot that she might need to talk to her parents about the whole thing. That sounded exhausting and she’d already had such a long, disappointing day. There was no use in Billy. She texted Rachel on her way to the front door and asked about the clinic and what to do and where to go. Rachel responded before Grace could turn the knob and almost seemed giddy at the prospect. They could go this weekend, four long days away. Rachel would make the appointment. They’d be done in an afternoon and life could go back to normal. She wouldn’t have to tell her parents. She regretted telling Billy, though given his reaction, she felt he wasn’t the guy for her and that night, she scrolled through her insta, lookg through the pictures they’d accumulated over eight beautiful months. No one questioned where she’d been or if she’d eaten. She wasn’t even sure if her parents were home.
She scolled TikTok that evening and was flooded with pregnant women and new mothers eith advice. How to hold a baby, how to change a diaper. How to make sure her breasts didn’t flatten out like pancakes after breastfeeding was over. How to make sure she doesn’t tear during. Grace didn’t know she could tear. “Don’t get a husband stitch if you do tear” one said. She googled husband stitch and felt nauseous. Her English teacher was in her head. “Cis-white-hetero-patriarchy invented the husband stitch. Get the surgery and take that power from them, sis.”
A few months back, they were assigned a story by Hemingway. A man and a woman were talking about an operation. Grace pretended she’d read it, much like the rest of the class and when Ms. Tawney’s attention was on Darius, who was making a scene again, she skimmed the story. The white elephants stood out to her and that was what she remembered most. She wasn’t sure why she thought of those elephants tonight. Grace turned out her light and lay back, when the slam of the front door disturbed her. There was yelling and music and loud laughter all night. They acted like divorcees in the daytime and college kids at night. How could she raise a baby here, she wondered. It’d be unfair. To everyone, but especially it. At Four, she fell asleep and the tension in her body relaxed. She hoped not to wake.
Daylight and nausea greeted her, and she turned on the shower before hugging the porcelain. Grace doubted there’d be an inquiry, but she’d led them to believe so much about her that wasn’t true and the lying was second nature at this point. She came downstairs to breakfast refreshed, craving a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese. They had Honey Nut Cheerios, so she departed without needing to see a soul. Her parents were nursing their hangovers and wouldn’t wake for at least an hour. She grabbed the key’s to Dad’s Challenger and sped off for town. He called it his baby, a model from 1983, gray, that was older than he was and looked like every other square shit box from the era. He dreamed to get a new one, a Hellcat if he could, but the car was being retired again in favor of EVs. Though he never accused or blamed her, Grace could tell her Dad wished he hadn’t been a father and instead drove around in his Dodge Challenger with her mom in the passenger seat, or another woman, or a rotation of them.
The bagel place gave her two and the old lady behind the counter rang up one, then winked at her like she knew. Grace almost dropped the bag and darted out of the shop like she’d seen her wanted poster in the window. She pulled into the driveway as Rachel arrived to drive them to school. She drove Mercedes. The pulled into the drive thru line at Starbucks and Grace started eating like a wild animal. She thought she wanted coffee, but the thought of it made the nausea return, if briefly, and instead, she got a tea. Rachel was talking and talking, but Grace did not hear her, instead nodding along and filling her side of things with mhms and ahs and yeahs until they pulled into the parking lot.
She half expected Billy to be waiting for her, but she was glad to see he wasn’t there. It was only three more days until Saturday and this whole thing would be a bad dream that she could let fall away. Rachel offered her Xanax, which she took with her tea and for the rest of the day, Grace was a zombie. There was no thinking, no worrying, no planning. It was like he life was on autopilot and she was fast-forwarding through the discomfort that her life had become.
She blinked and it was Saturday morning and the nausea was still there, but she rubbed her stomach and felt the slightest bump. She looked in the mirror and saw nothing out of the ordinary, but she swore she felt bigger than she had days previous. She rubbed and rubbed her stomach, half imagining a baby genie would pop out. She opened her bedroom door and saw her mother passed out on the hallway floor. She was still pretty and could have more children if she wanted to, but Grace doubted that desire ever burned in her. She treated Grace more like a younger sister than a daughter, taking her clothes to go out, flirting with Billy when he came over, pointing out guys in their twenties and calling them over to them when the two of them were out in town, which only embarrassed her as her mother tried to show her how to get boys to notice her by pushing her breasts together with her arms.
Rachel was waiting in the driveway and greeted Grace with a wide smile and breathless excitement. This was the biggest thing that had happened to Rachel, it seemed, and while Grace swung between nervousness and exhaustion, Rachel acted high on the drama that was Grace’s shattering life.
“We can get their faster if we take the toll road. Did you ask Billy to pay for it? It’s only right.”
“I haven’t talked to Billy since I told him the other day.”
“He doesn’t know I’m going through with it, he’s not a shit head. He’s just a boy.”
“Boys are shit heads. Don’t worry, next year we’ll be seniors and there’ll be better party’s with better guys. College guys, I bet. And they’ll know how to handle these kinds of things. For now, you have me and that’s more than enough, I promise. I’m here with you the whole way.”
Rachel pulled out of the driveway and Grace wondered if she meant what she’d said. Was Rachel there for her, even if she decided to keep the baby? If she was a teen mom? Would Rachel be an Aunt? Rachel sped down the street and pulled out onto the toll road to the city, a twenty minute drive now cut in half thanks to her eagerness. Rachel had been like this, acting like a good friend, going out of her way sometimes to perform virtue and accruing so much of it she could castigate anyone who didn’t measure up to her. Grace felt like a bitch for thinking such things, since Rachel was here and Billy wasn’t and her parents couldn’t care to know what was going on. She stayed quiet, instead looking up reasons to not go through with it on her phone, but instead getting results like why she should and how she could and where to donate to make sure more women could and how this was her right, ordained to her by her nature as a woman, careful not to mention God.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Not today at least, I don’t know. I… I need to think, is that okay?”
“I just don’t want to right now, okay? I’m not feeling well.”
“That’s why we’re going. Because you don’t feel well and this will make it better.”
“What if it doesn’t? What if this is all a big mistake?”
“I thought the mistake already happened.”
“That doesn’t make this the right choice.”
“Okay, we can do what you want.”
“Let’s spend today in the city. We were going to be there all day anyway.”
“If it’s all the same to you, if my day’s freed up…”
Grace nodded her head and got the answer to a question she never asked aloud. They turned around and Grace felt thrown out of the car as Rachel sped off to who knows where. She entered the house and Jackie was meandering down the stairs, holding her head as they locked eyes.
“You look so pretty today, Gracie. You’ve always been beautiful, but today, especially, I guess.”
Grace broke down crying at that and Jackie ran to catch her as she fell to the floor. The front door was open and she sat their weeping and Jackie stroked her hair and gave her a calming shh sound, holding her tight in the other arm. Grace kept on crying for some time, this time feeling the warm embrace of a mother, maybe for the first time since she was a little girl. She decided she liked it and wondered what kind of mother she could be.
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