I wake up in the morning feeling heavy and tired as if I didn’t sleep at all. My mind was running through thoughts of Brandon, my Dad, my Mom, and Kaden, so much so that I’m not sure what time I managed to fall asleep. The clock on my bedside table says it’s nearly noon, and just as my eyes take in the digits, my phone lights up. I grab it and read a text from Lauren:
I’m in trouble and I need your help!!!
There’s also a message from Brandon saying that he hopes to see me today. He’s sweet, but I first reply to Lauren, worried by her text. I ask what’s happened before sitting up and rubbing my eyes. My phone vibrates while everything is still blurry—I struggle to read her message asking to meet up. With shaky fingers, I tap back asking where and when then move on to Brandon’s message. After sending him an explanation as to why I may be busy with Lauren, I receive details from her. She simply says My house. Now.
Jumping into clothes, speeding in the bathroom, and skipping breakfast—or now lunch—I slip past my Aunt and Mom who are talking in the kitchen. I’m worried. What if some guy tried to hurt her? What if she drank too much? Or took something weird? I find myself nearly running down the street, breathing hard and desperate to get to her. What if Kaden is trying to hurt her? What if someone broke into her house? What if she’s been drugged?
My throat dries out but my eyes stay fixated on her house as it grows in front of me. The front door isn’t open—that’s a good sign. There aren’t any cars parked in front—also a good sign. I jog up the path and knock repeatedly on the door. “Lauren?”
I hear footsteps hurrying over and soon she’s in front of me, motioning for me to come in. Uneasy due to her silence, I ask, “Are you hurt? Is someone here?”
She shakes her head.
“You said you’re in trouble?”
Her phone is gripped in her hands, held close to her chest. “I-I am. Something bad has happened. I don’t know what to do. God, what am I going to do?”
"What’s going on?”
Lauren shakes her head, sitting down on the couch, staring at the glass coffee table. My eyes follow hers. Leaning closer, I see a pregnancy test laying flat. I swallow and examine the two lines. There are so many things to ask, to say, but nothing comes out of me.
“I think I’m pregnant,” Lauren breathes out. She watches the test as if it will suddenly move or vanish or change. “M-My period didn’t come, so I was worried. I waited a few more days and decided I should make sure I’m not... But I am. It says I am.”
I step closer but step back, completely caught off guard. When? Who? How? One of my closest friends seems to be pregnant, and even though I’ve seen this happen on T.V. shows and in movies, everything about this feels foreign.
“Please say something.”
Lauren falls back against the couch. “How? How do you think! I slept with someone. I slept with someone and now I’m pregnant. I can’t be pregnant. I don’t want to be pregnant.”
“With Preston. With Austin. Jesus,” she mutters. “I don’t even know who did this to me! I’m a mess! This is just sad, isn’t it? I’m a pregnant whore.”
Tears stream down her flushed cheeks. “No, no, Lauren, you’re not. It was an accident. Everything will be okay.” Deep breath. “Just calm down. We’re going to figure this out, okay?”
“I can’t be pregnant, Emma. My parents are going to kill me. I-I’m only eighteen.”
“Let’s just figure out the next step we need to take to fix this, okay? Do you want to talk to Preston or Austin?”
She frantically shakes her head and mumbles, “No, no, no.”
“Okay. That’s fine. You’re fine. You just have to figure out what you want to do, and you have plenty of time to do that,” I say soothingly, wanting to sound confident. “How many tests did you take?”
“Just this one. I got a box from the drugstore.”
“You need to take all of them just in case. Who knows, something could be wrong with this one.”
Lauren nods slowly. She sniffles before saying, “More are in the bathroom. I took this one this morning. Should I take another now?”
It’s really not my place to give advice or instructions, but I tell her, “If you want, I think it’d be a good idea.”
I watch her until she disappears into the bathroom down by the front door. Chewing on my lip, I decide that a second opinion would be better, more for Lauren and not just to settle my nerves. “Should I ask Jonas to come? He always knows what to do,” I call to her.
“Okay. Do you think he’ll be mad at me though? I don’t want him to hate me!”
“Jonas would understand. He’s who I would call.”
Lauren yells through the door, “Then call him. You two are my closest friends. I only want you two here. And I only want you two to know, okay? If Preston or Austin or anyone found out—”
“I promise, no one will find out.”
I call Jonas and tell him to come to Lauren’s quick. She hesitantly emerges from the bathroom with the test in hand. “We have to wait a few minutes,” she says, so I bring her down beside me on the couch and sling my arm around her. “I’m freaked out. I’ve never been so anxious in my life.”
“I can’t imagine how you feel right now, but I will be here for you no matter what, you know that, right? And I’m sure when Jonas gets here, he’ll tell you the same.”
While we wait, I make Lauren lunch, expecting that she hasn’t eaten yet today. Every few minutes I’ll glance over at her as she lays on the couch. Her eyes stare longingly at the ceiling as she decides what to do if she really is pregnant. Lauren took the second test twenty minutes ago but hasn’t looked at it, and I won’t remind her because I know she’s well aware that the time is up.
Placing her favorite food in front of her—macaroni and cheese—I smile and she softly thanks me. Just then the front door opens and the period of silence is broken. Jonas comes rushing down the front hall and looks worryingly at her. “What happened?”
I step back and clean up in the kitchen while Lauren explains her dilemma to him. I think he’s better at this than I am—I was never good at comforting people, not in universal ways. After hearing few words shared back and forth, I peek back and catch them in a loving hug. Jonas strokes her hair as she mumbles her concerns. He and I make eye contact and share expressions of sympathy; my heart aches for her. Lauren is usually the most upbeat out of the three of us, and seeing her like this brings a backward feeling to the day.
“Don’t worry, you have time,” Jonas says to her.
* * *
Sitting behind the house, in the sand, with my toes inches from the water, I stare out at the vast blue and try to forget about dinner. The house smells like peach cobbler, and it reminds me of holidays (when my mother usually makes it). Emma is bringing home a normal guy and suddenly we have to rip out the real good stuff—thanksgiving kind of stuff because my mother is so thankful that he doesn’t hurt me in any way. It’s a sad thing to be thankful for.
I’d rather get sushi with him as we did on what was technically our first date. That is much more appealing to me now than a family dinner and not just because we went swimming in our underwear afterward. That sushi dinner was when I finally gave in, even if it was a little too spontaneous to jump in the pool. I remember being so close to him so quickly, and I never thought I would do such a thing ever again—but Brandon causes me to abandon many of my self-indicted rules.
I peer back at the house. My mother is sticking out of the back door, waving for me. As I walk over she asks, “Why don’t you change? Put on something nicer, you’ve been sitting in the sand.”
Once in my room, I stare down at my suitcase. I brought a dress—nothing fancy—something that I packed just in case we go out somewhere more upscale for dinner. I didn’t think I would be wearing it to properly introduce my boyfriend to my family, or what’s left of my family. It’s white, dainty, and makes my shoulders tense. Before I can decide for myself, my Aunt walks past my room and says, “That’s nice. Now hurry up and put it on before he gets here.”
With it on, I feel like I’m Emma from three years ago, the Emma that didn’t even know what Hunter was going to do. This Emma liked ice cream and high heels and boys and sparkly lip gloss and high school football games and flared skirts and other forgotten treasures. I’m sure when I bought this I knew of the flirty length, but not the effect of the flirty length.
The doorbell rings and my chest tightens.
I dash out of my room and shoo my mother and aunt away. Slipping outside, I look up at a handsome Brandon and suggest, “Maybe we should go somewhere else.”
“I don’t think so,” he says, probably expecting to be inside and charming by now. “Come on, let’s go inside, there’s no reason to be nervous. I’m supposed to be the nervous one anyway.”
“What if they’re embarrassing or weird? You have to promise not to change your mind about me, no matter what they might say.”
“I doubt that my mind will be changed, Emma.”
Crossing my arms, I peer down at the bouquet of flowers in his grasp. “Flowers?”
“Are you going to let me in?” He says, smiling a little.
I sigh, wanting to soak in every last bit of him before he faces the women who raised me. I love my mother, and I love my Aunt, but I’m unsure of how they’re going to act in front of him. A boyfriend has never been brought home like this before.
“Okay, okay,” I give in and bring him inside. My mother is waiting casually, almost acting as if she didn’t know that Brandon was just on the porch. “Mom,” I say, “you remember Brandon.”
“Of course I do,” she says, coming over, giving him a hug. “It’s so good to see you again, Brandon. Oh, and you better tell me those flowers are for me and not my daughter.”
I roll my eyes as Brandon says of course and hands them to her. A smile lights up her face—something that I haven’t see a lot recently—and she says something like, “I knew you had a head on your shoulders. Emma’s Aunt Sandy will love these. Come on, she’s just in the kitchen finishing up. I hope you like cobbler.”
She swipes him away and leaves me standing at the door. I listen as he greets my Aunt and as she thanks him for the beautiful flowers. They are beautiful—a mix of white and pastels and vibrant greens, an array of flowers that I mostly can’t name. Aunt Sandy is likely putting them in a vase right now.
They’ve left me behind. I could run out the door.
“Where’d she go? Emma?” My mother calls, eventually tracing her steps back to me. She motions me over, confused as to why I didn’t follow them.
Being a good girl, I join.
“So you two met while working together at the t-shirt shop? Emma’s always wanted to work there. She’s been waiting for years,” my mother says.
“We did. She was a little shy at first,” he glances to me and I bite my cheek. “But eventually I got her to talk to me.”
“That’s my Emma,” she says. “It always took her a while to open up to people, ever since she was little.”
"Mom,” I breathe out.
“Oh stop it, I’m sure he already knows this. You two didn’t meet yesterday. Anyway, Brandon, Emma told me you’re going to Berkeley.”
As he elaborates, I can see in on her face, the need to tell him about Stanford. I give her a hard look, but she ignores me. “Well did Emma ever tell you about her college plans?”
“I don’t really like to talk about it,” I say, needing to take over.
She’s really playing all her ‘mom cards’. “And I think that’s ridiculous. The summer is almost over, Emma. I’m sure Brandon would love to know about—”
“Why are you doing this?” I cut her off.
My mother looks to Brandon and says, “She’s going to Stanford.”
“Stanford?” Brandon says then looks to me. “Why didn’t you tell me? That’s very impressive, Emma.”
My face scrunches up. “This was a bad idea.”
“You’re being overdramatic,” my mother says.
“What else are you going to tell him?”
“Well, probably things he should already know.”
With a clenched jaw, I ask, “And how is that your job? Just because your relationship—” I stop myself. Her mouth forms a thin line. That was a mistake; I shouldn’t have turned it on her. I spoke too soon, but my realization wasn’t quick enough.
“I should check on your Aunt with dinner.”
I watch as she stands up from the couch and finds solace in the kitchen. I get up not long after.
My eyes find his, but not for long.