“Stella, you’ve been acting weird lately, are you sure you’re okay?” Gemma asks as she drops her books on the kitchen table. I’m currently in the kitchen making a ham and sardine sandwich because I’ve been having these weird cravings recently. “Last time I checked you hated sardines.”
“I guess my taste buds have changed.” I shrug, and stuff the sandwich into my mouth, savoring the salty taste.
“What about the hurling that I woke up to this morning? Stel, that’s not normal.” She argues, and again I shrug.
“I ate some bad chicken last night.”
“Okay, you keep telling yourself that, babe.” She shakes her head while I polish off my sandwich and kick back on the couch to binge watch Supernatural before I take a mid-term tomorrow.
“Have you talked to Beau recently?” Gemma asks, removing my feet from the coffee table when she sits beside me. I check my phone and shake my head.
“Not since August when I left again.” I sigh, thinking about our reconciliation over the summer.
“Not a single phone call? No text? Nothing?” She cries, grabbing at my phone to check my story and I hand it over, rubbing my temples. “That wuss.”
“I can’t say I blame him though. We tried the long distance thing before and it obviously didn’t work then, so why would it work now?”
“Yeah, but it’s so frustrating because everybody knows y’all are gonna end up together in the end, so I just don’t understand why y’all are fighting it so much.” She sighs, and grabs the remote to turn on Netflix.
“You’re telling me. But it was his idea and once his mind is set, there’s no changing it. Maybe after next semester when I move home to start my own business and help Beau run the place we’ll start something more permanent. I’m just glad he was there for me when Dad died, and he’s done a pretty good job of running the place since.” I sigh, missing my father. It’s been nearly two years since his heart attack, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier.
“I’m just not sure that all of this ‘on again, off again’ crap is good for you, my love. You’re different, and I’m worried.” She murmurs, and curls up on the couch with me with her microbiology textbook in her lap.
“I promise I’ll be okay, Gemma.” I smile while the show starts.
“Dammit, Stella, I have got to get some sleep and I can’t do that if you’re throwing up at all hours of the morning.” Gemma groans, flipping on the light in the bathroom in the morning.
“Apparently I still don’t like sardines.” I groan, sticking my head in the toilet again as another wave hits.
“I don’t know, Stella. Weird cravings, throwing up, getting emotional with me, I think you might be –”
“Don’t say it, Gemma. I know what you’re going to say so don’t say it. All of these things are just coincidences.” I mutter, closing my eyes and leaning my forehead against my forearms.
“I won’t say I told you so when you find out the truth. And could you please keep it down? I have a midterm at 9 and I need to sleep.”
I sit on the floor of the bathroom trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but no matter how I do the math, it doesn’t add up. It’s literally impossible. My stomach feels better now so I stand up and rinse my mouth out before heading back to my room to curl up under my covers and catch a couple more hours of sleep before my midterm at 11 that I’m not worried about at all. I wake up after Gemma is gone and the house is eerily quiet. It makes me miss the nights that Beau would spend here during my first year of college. We’d wake up late and I’d skip my morning classes and we’d sit on the couch laughing and feeding each other cold waffles.
Tears start to fill my eyes as I think about the memories, but that hasn’t happened for nearly two years. Not since Dad died at least. Pushing the memories aside, I hurry and get ready for class early, and head to my studio to work for an hour or so before I have to take the Contemporary Arts midterm. I should have taken this class my sophomore year like my advisor suggested, but it sounded so boring and that was the year everything turned upside down for me. Only by some miracle did I manage to pass all of my classes that semester with a C or better. Thankfully my studio is empty when I get there besides all of my pottery pieces that I’m working on putting together to make my final piece. They’re scattered all over the room on bats, drywall, and molds covered in plastic, and my wheels are covered in dried clay that I really need to clean up. I frown at my mess, stare at the design I drew for my final project, frown some more, and decide I just want to throw on the wheel; no intricate pieces, no nit-picking my project pieces, just throwing and seeing what happens.
“Stella, are you okay?” Kristen, my mentor asks when she pops her head
in the studio after I’ve put almost ten pounds of thrown clay back in the reclaim bucket. “I didn’t know you’d be in today.”
“I wasn’t planning on it, but I had an extra couple of hours so I thought I’d stop in. It’s been a weird couple of days and I just needed to clear my mind. Clay has always helped with that.” I smile at Kristen, who nods and pops back out of the room while I go wash my hands and head to my midterm that I finish in less than 30 minutes.
I head home, hoping that Gemma’s midterms took longer than mine did and that I’ll have the house to myself for a little while. Luckily, her car isn’t in the driveway when I pull in, and I hear the TV calling my name. I’m so deep into season 6 that I don’t even hear Gemma come in until she’s slamming something on the table beside me causing me to scream.
“Don’t do that!” I shout at her, before turning my attention back to the TV.
“Go take one of these right now.” She demands, holding a box in front of my face. I grab whatever it is out of her hand to stop her from shielding the TV, and finish the ending of the episode she interrupted before looking at the blue box in my hand.
“Fine, if it’ll get you off my back.” I grumble, ripping the box open on my way to the bathroom to pee on the fricking stick. When I come out of the bathroom, Gemma is sitting on my bed, waiting impatiently for the stick to tell me if I’m pregnant or not. “I’m not pregnant Gemma.” I argue again when she grabs the stick and stares at it, willing it to reveal itself.
“Um, well, according to this stick, you are.” She says, slowly looking up from the stick to me. I frown and grab the stick out of her hands, comparing the symbols. Plus sign=Pregnant. I stare at the tiny little plus sign for what seems like eternity before shaking my head and grabbing the other one in the box.
“It must have been a faulty stick. This one will be different.” I assure her, heading back to try and pee on another one.
“Stella, it says you’re pregnant too.” Gemma sighs after this one has had a chance to think.
“No way, Gemma. It’s absolutely impossible.” I argue, and she frowns at me.
“When was the last time you had sex?” She demands.
“Uh, the beginning of August.” I blink, ashamed that I am a senior in college and have gone almost three months without sex.
“Who was the last time with?” She asks, and I glare at her.
“Who the hell do you think?”
“Beau?” She gasps, and I nod.
“He’s always worn a condom and I’ve always been on the pill.” I frown, and then it hits me. “Holy shit.”
“What? That holy shit did not sound good, Stel.” Gemma stares at me wide-eyed.
“I had been on antibiotic for a sinus infection the week before. We’d always worn a condom except for the last time. He used his last one in bed but then we had a spontaneous round in the shower right after – and then again someplace else that I’d rather not say. I’d told him it was okay because I was on the pill.” I sit and stare at the tests dumbfounded while I think about what this means. I’m nearly 22. I’m not married, I don’t have a boyfriend or a stable financial income. I’m not emotionally ready to be a mother, and I sure as hell know Beau does not want to be a father right now. There’s entirely too much on my plate right now and I cannot add a baby on top of things.
“Stella.” Gemma calls, bringing me back from my thoughts and fear. “I’m going to have a niece or nephew!” She screams before happy dancing around the room.
“I’m not pregnant, El.” I mumble, looking down at my torso, having a really hard time believing that a human being could be growing inside it.
“Pregnancy tests are right 99.8% of the time. Come on, we have to go get you an OB/GYN appointment!” She grins, grabbing my hand and pulling me out to the living room.
“Call Dr. Adams at St. Francis. She’s been my go-to for all my female needs since I was 16. She’ll know what to do.” I mumble, handing her my phone so she can find the contact. “Wait, I’ll talk to her.”
Gemma hands the phone back to me before she dials it, and I sit on the couch pulling my knees to my chest. “Hi, I need to speak with Dr. Adams. Is she available for a few minutes?” I ask as soon as the receptionist answers. A few seconds later I hear Dr. Adam’s familiar voice on the other end of the phone. “Hey Dr. Adams, it’s Stella Hawkley. I actually have something that I’m kind of confused about. I took a pregnancy test today, well actually two of them, and they both said that I’m pregnant.” I spill, and Dr. Adams sighs.
“I have an opening at 4:15. Can you make it?” She asks, and I quickly agree.
“I’ll be there. Thank you so much.” I gasp, glance at the clock, and grab Gemma’s hand because we have to hurry.
The ride to the hospital where she works is short, and we get there right on time. Dr. Adams is ahead of schedule, and is waiting for me by the waiting room doors when we walk in. She ushers us into a private room and I tell her everything I told Gemma before she agrees that it sounds like I’m pregnant and drawing blood to make sure before wheeling out an ultrasound machine.
“If you’re as far along as we think, we should be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat.” She says, before smearing some clear, cold liquid on my lower abdomen. Sure as shit, butterfly beats are heard and seen across the screen, and tears flow out of my eyes while Gemma squeezes my hand. I think I’ve known for a while, but have just refused to believe it. My stomach is pudgier. Morning sickness. Weird cravings. Mood swings. Lack of my period even though I’ve been irregular before. I don’t know why I didn’t see it or at least acknowledge the possibility.
“You’ve got to tell Beau about this, Stel. He’s going to be thrilled.” Gemma whispers, tears of her own in her eyes.
“No, not yet. I don’t want him to know.” I sigh, touching my stomach where there is a life growing. Gemma looks skeptical when I look at her, and Dr. Adams is busy scribbling in my file.
“Okay Stella. This is my last appointment today so I’ll stick around and we can have our first checkup to make sure everything is okay and set you up with some vitamins and everything you’ll need if you have time.” Dr. Adams smiles, and I nod, still amazed that there’s a life growing inside me.
Midterms flew by, followed closely by finals. I’m in the middle of packing a suitcase to take home with me for the month of winter break, when I see my phone flashing Beau’s name. Glancing down and sighing at my growing belly, I answer the call.
“Hey Beau.” I call into the phone while I’m packing jeans and sweaters.
“What time are you planning on being home, Stel?” He asks, and I hear female giggles coming from the other end of the line.
“Uh, I don’t know, early afternoon? I’m still packing right now.” I frown, wondering why there’s a girl at the farm. Well, I’m assuming he’s at the farm. For all I know he could be at her place.
“Okay, well do you think you could text me when you leave? I have a surprise for you when you get here.” Beau says, and again, I frown.
“I bet my surprise for you is bigger.” I mumble, sitting on my bed and wrapping one of my hands around my 5-month belly.
“Okay, see you soon, Stel.” He barely gets out before hanging up, and I’m left sitting on my bed thinking about how hard this is going to be. If I had a choice, I’d never tell him. But Gemma promised me she wouldn’t tell him as long as I did. And I would never want him finding out about this from anyone else.
I was really surprised how well my professors worked with my doctor appointments this semester, and they’ve all assured me that they’ll be there for me for my last semester. Since it’s a small college, most of the professors teach different aspects for my major, and they’ve watched me grow as a person through these last four years. With their help, I’m hoping I’ll still be able to graduate on time, even though I’ll have my little baby a month before graduation. Dr. Adams estimates my due date on April 19th, and I can’t wait to meet my little pumpkin.
Gemma left yesterday to fly to Italy so she could spend the first half of break with Fernando’s family, and if I’m not mistaken I think she’s probably going to have a ring on her finger when she gets back. They’ve been as solid as a rock since that cruise. The long distance thing didn’t seem to get in their way like it did with me and Beau, and I couldn’t be any happier for my best friend. I finish packing in another hour, and carry my suitcase and dirty laundry basket out to my jeep and manage to stuff everything in the backseat that I need to take home. I make sure all of the lights are turned out, appliances are unplugged, and that the thermostat is turned down so it won’t be running the heater all day long for a month without anybody being there before grabbing my keys and heading home. I stop for gas and a piece of pizza at a gas station on the edge of Savannah before making the hour and a half drive back to the farm.
When I pull in the driveway, Beau’s truck is parked in the driveway and the garage is open like it always is when I come home. I know he parks his truck in the garage while I’m away, but it’s nice that he lets me have it when I come home. I managed to remember to send him the text that I was leaving Savannah, but he never replied to me, so I don’t know if he got it or not. I don’t see him around the barns, so I pull into the garage and sit there for a little while calming my nerves about telling him about the pregnancy. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled, right? I climb out of the Jeep making sure I don’t bump my belly on anything because it’s kind of starting to stick out there a little way, and resituate my shirt trying to make it less conspicuous. I fail miserably. Before I do anything though, I want to go inside and lay in my bed and pretend like my life isn’t changing drastically. Really hoping that Beau is out on a horse somewhere so I can be alone for a while, I push open the door to the living room, and stare at my family that shout surprise when I walk through the door. My jaw falls to the floor and it doesn’t take long for everyone’s eyes to fall to my stomach. So much for privacy.
My mom is the first one off the couch giving me a hug. I haven’t seen her since Dad’s funeral, and I don’t really talk to her that much. I definitely haven’t told her about my baby yet. Her eyes search mine and I give her a tight-lipped smile when she pulls back from the hug, before Bryndle is jumping into them. We’ve gotten a lot closer since she’s been back in the US going to college, but she still usually spends every break she has back in Panama where my mom and Jack still live. Surprisingly, Jack is sitting on the couch with the Australian Sheppard that Beau insisted he had to have to keep him company while he’s all alone here. The pretty little thing has finally outgrown her puppy stage and has actually become a really nice inside/outside dog that goes everywhere with Beau. Literally. Speaking of Beau, I don’t see him around the living room with my family, but I quickly find out where he is when he comes around the corner from the hallway and freezes when he sees me, his eyes gluing to my stomach.
I manage to tear my eyes away from Beau’s shocked face long enough to give my step-dad a hug and scratch Reece’s ears. “What are you guys doing here?” I finally ask first, before they can ask me any questions.
“Well, Jack and I figured that this is the last Christmas break you’re going to have before you graduate this spring, so we thought we’d come and try to spend it with you. We hadn’t seen you in so long, we missed you.” Mom says, obviously looking very pointedly at my round stomach when she mentions how long it’s been.
“I missed you guys, too. What about you, Bryndle? What are you doing here? I didn’t think the tar-heels let y’all out for another week?” I ask, sitting on my not-so-little sister’s lap and wrapping my arms around her neck.
“My class finals all fell last week so I got out of there as soon as I possibly could. I couldn’t deal with that sorority house for another week or I probably would have pulled my hair out.” She shudders when she thinks about the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority she joined last year.
“Well lucky you!” I laugh, trying not to meet Beau’s gaze, but I fail miserably.
“As great as it is to see all of you, I think I’m going to go see my favorite guy on this property.” I smile, thinking about my black gelding outside. I’m sure he feels extremely neglected this semester, because I usually make at least a couple of trips home, but not this time. I was trying to avoid Beau at all costs. I let myself out the front door before the smile I put on my face drops, and I fight back tears. I’m glad none of them said anything before I’m ready to tell them, but that didn’t make it any easier. I wish they would have told me they were coming home so I would have prepared my baby speech for them, too. Since I don’t see Zeus in the paddock, I head to the barn and grab an apple before letting myself into his stall and draping my arms around his neck.
“Hey boy.” I whisper, letting the tears fall off my cheeks while I hug him. He hugs me back before stomping his hoof and demanding that I give him the apple. I laugh and wipe my eyes while he munches on his snack before sniffing the belly that he obviously doesn’t remember sticking out so far. “Yeah, bud. There’s a little life in there. Hopefully he or she is going to love you as much as I do.” I sigh, rubbing his ears before sinking into the hay and letting my tears fall freely. I’m just so overwhelmed and scared right now, that I don’t even notice someone standing outside of my stall.
“Hey, what are you doing out here?” I ask, glancing up to see Bryndle leaning against the stall door before letting herself in and curling up beside me.
“Do you want to talk about this?” She asks, pressing her palm against my belly. I wipe my eyes and laugh as another set of tears hit, and I spill it all to Bryndle.
“I’ve known for about two months now.” I chuckle, bending a piece of hay until the brittle piece breaks. “I haven’t told anybody besides Gemma, my doctor, and my professors. Beau doesn’t even know yet.” I whisper, pressing my forehead into her shoulder.
“Well that was pretty obvious by the look on his face. And you’re sure it’s his?” She asks, concerned.
“One hundred percent sure.” I sigh, turning my head to watch Zeus dozing in the corner.
“You need to talk to him ASAP. In fact, I’ll go get him that way you can talk to him in private. Then you can tell Mom and Jack. I’m sure Mom’s going to be so excited to have a grandbaby to spoil.” Bryndle says standing up and brushing the hay off of her jeans.
“Thanks, Bryndle. I’m lucky to have you as a sister.” I smile, squeezing her hand before she leaves the stall. As much as we used to fight, we’ve gotten really good at the sister thing.
Before I know it, Beau is letting himself into the stall and sitting beside me with about a foot of space between us. “Why didn’t you ever mention that you were pregnant?” He asks, not looking at me.
“I didn’t know how to tell you that you were going to be a father.” I whisper, trying to bite back the tears.
“But I can’t be the father. We used protection every single time. It has to be someone else’s.” He argues, and I shake my head as I try to fight a sob that breaks through my lips.
“You’re the only guy it could possibly be.” I whisper, pulling my hands around my belly because it makes me feel safer for some reason. Not that I feel unsafe, it’s just a coping mechanism that I’ve established recently.
“But we used protection.” He argues, and again, I shake my head.
“Think really hard.” I whisper, glancing sideways at his set jaw, watching the gears turn in his mind.
“Shit.” He mutters, and I know he’s found the last time.
“I just want you to know that I can raise this baby on my own. I don’t need you to think it’s your responsibility to take care of either one of us. We’ll be perfectly capable of doing that on our own.” I tell him, turning my body so I can speak directly to him and not to Zeus. I’m a little horrified at the look Beau gives me when he looks at me because he’s frowning at me – actually, glaring is more like it.
“Did that actually just come out of your mouth?” He asks, clenching his jaw. When I nod, he shakes his head. “Stella, I thought you were a lot smarter than that. For God’s sake, I’m in love with you. I’ve been in love with you for almost four years now.”
“Then why’d you leave when things got hard?” I ask, fighting tears for a whole new reason.
“Because you pushed me away, Stella! You stopped coming home, started making excuses for why you wouldn’t answer my phone calls. Every time I drove up there for you, you spent almost every second in that studio. I never got to see you. I gave up on trying to get you to talk to me during the semesters, then I felt like I was tying you down when you came home for break and said you were missing an exhibit in New York because you thought I’d be mad if you went there instead of coming home. I broke things off between us for YOU, Stella!” He practically shouts and me, and I lean away from him until he’s finished.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me that? I don’t remember saying or doing those things.” I whisper, horrified that he thought I was the one pushing him away.
“I was okay with the summer hook ups after I wrapped my head around the thought that breaking up was what was best for you. I wanted you to have a life so we could maybe have a future together.” He sighs, rubbing his temples.
“What would have been best for me would be if you had fought for me instead of giving up on me. I thought we broke up because you couldn’t stand the constant hours I was putting in at the studio trying to keep my scholarship. I needed you, Beau.” I nearly whimper, tears still flowing down my face.
“I tried fighting, Stel. But there’s not a fight if it’s only one-sided, and you weren’t putting any effort in on your end.” He sighs, reaching out to touch my arm.
“Do you know how many nights I cried myself to sleep after we broke up because I didn’t have my rock to lean on anymore? Too many to count.” I mention, gently pulling my hand away from him.
“I never meant to hurt you, Stella. I thought I was doing what was best for you.” He answers, and I can’t hold back the sobs anymore. I double over, holding my face in my hands while I sob, and Beau wraps his arms around me and pulls me to his chest, tucking his chin on top of my head and rocking me. “So that’s really my baby? I’m really going to be a father?” Beau asks, his tone completely changing after a few minutes of just holding me. I reach up and wipe my eyes, chuckling and nodding at how excited he honestly sounds. It was how I was hoping he’d take the news, but I was never sure how it would actually go, so besides the crying and yelling, I’d say this was probably on the better side of the scenarios I played in my mind.
“I have a doctor’s appointment next week to find out if it’s a boy or a girl. Do you want to come?” I ask, pulling back from his embrace and drying my cheeks.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He promises, pulling me back into his arms and kissing my temple before reaching out to touch my belly.
“Hi baby. It’s your daddy. I know you don’t know me, but I promise you will. I’m going to teach you how to rope and ride and walk and drive and throw a baseball and play football or volleyball or soccer, or play video games or whatever else you grow up to love doing. And I’m going to love your beautiful mom all the time while I’m teaching you all of those things, I promise.” He whispers to my belly before leaning down and lifting my shirt and pressing his lips into the stretched skin.
“Did you mean that?” I ask, blinking away more tears that threaten to fall at his heartfelt speech to his baby.
“Every single word of it.” He murmurs before kissing me softly. “No more running, no more fighting – just you and me and our baby. Got it?”
I nod and reach up to his cheek to pull his lips back to mine. I never stopped loving him either, no matter what I forced my brain into thinking. Beau leans me back in the hay while he kisses me, rubbing my belly the entire time. He takes a couple of breaks from my lips to kiss and talk to our baby, and I’m so happy he’s happy.
Now I just have to explain it to Mom and Jack.