She was in the midst of perfecting the neckline on her newest creation when she got the text message. Normally, when Jessamine was ultra focused, she would ignore all incoming calls and texts, but when she glanced down and saw multiple messages from Caroline Brewer, she knew something important was happening. Caroline wouldn’t be begging for Jessamine to respond unless it was absolutely necessary, so Jessamine shut off her sewing machine and picked up her phone, her eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed in concern as she read the messages.
Jessa, can you meet me at the corner, as soon as possible?
Don’t tell your parents.
The last message was extra concerning. It wasn’t as though any of the Vertical Limit children were in the habit of spilling each other’s secrets to their parents – after all, if they couldn’t trust each other, who could they trust? – but if Caroline was specifically asking for silence, it meant that she was freaked out and didn’t know what to do.
Luckily for her, Jessamine Copeland was a master at remaining calm in stressful situations.
Grabbing the purse that had her wallet in it, Jessamine stuck her phone inside before rising from her chair to slip into the closest pair of braided sandals and heading out the door. If she was truly going to get away with her parents not getting suspicious about her sudden departure, she needed a cover story and an alibi, which was where Tyler came in. Having someone who could back up your story was one of the many things she’d learned from the crime shows she loved to watch.
It was Saturday afternoon, which meant that her younger brother was unwinding in his room from that morning’s swim practice, which generally consisted of listening to indie rock songs very loudly while he looked up pasta recipes online. She had always thought it was kind of hilarious that her baby brother ended up being such a whiz in the kitchen, seeing as neither she nor either of her parents were particularly skilled in that area. Up until Tyler had learned that he was quite useful with a saucepan, their meals had mostly consisted of takeout, frozen dinners, or their mother’s famous chicken, rice, and vegetables.
“Ty,” she said, knocking twice and pushing the door open before he had a chance to respond, a habit she needed to get out of, especially after previously walking into his room while he was in the midst of an extremely private moment. She supposed it was because she was innately curious. If someone told her not to enter, she would just want to enter more, so she didn’t bother asking. He was right where she expected him to be: lying on his stomach on his bed with his laptop in front of him, Blink-182 blasting through the speakers.
“What’s up?” Tyler replied, eyebrows raising as he turned down his laptop speakers and closed the window which had been opened to a recipe of pesto carbonara. He was so used to his sister just walking into his room that he didn’t bother complaining about it anymore. Besides, it wouldn’t be long before she left for college again and he wanted to enjoy all the time he had left with her.
She leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms over her chest. “In case Mom or Dad ask, I’m going out for a little bit.”
“Okay…,” he replied, unsure as to why she was telling him that. It wasn’t as though they were constantly aware of each other’s activities. “Why don’t you just tell them?”
“Because,” she sighed, reaching up to pull her hair out of the bun it was always twisted into while she worked and sending her thick, dark curls tumbling down to her waist. “I don’t want them asking a bunch of questions.”
Her parents weren’t nosy, per se, just parental, and although she could appreciate that they cared enough about her to want to know her whereabouts, considering she had no idea what was currently going on, she didn’t want to have to vaguely respond to questions she didn’t actually know the answer to.
Tyler was slowly but surely catching on, his eyebrows pulling into a deep v. “Is everything alright?”
That was the question of the hour, but she had no idea how to respond, so she just shrugged. “I’m not sure, but Caroline seems pretty frazzled.”
Now that Tyler knew it was a family problem, he was more than willing to play along. They protected each other. Always. “Gotcha. Do you want me to come?”
Jessamine assumed there was a reason Caroline hadn’t asked for Tyler’s help as well, so she shook her head. “I have a feeling this is a girl thing. If the parents ask, you can tell them I’m with Care, but keep it vague.”
“That shouldn’t be hard,” he laughed. “You haven’t told me anything.”
“Because I don’t know anything,” she replied, straightening her posture and preparing to leave. “I’ll see you later.”
“Let me know if you need me,” he called out as she walked down the hallway.
Afternoon meant her father was probably in his basement studio and her mother was probably reading or watching television shows on her IPad in the lounge room, so Jessamine exited the house through the back door so she wouldn’t have to walk past either of those rooms and quietly slipped through the gate before hurrying to the corner of the street where Caroline was waiting.
She was pacing the sidewalk, neon pink painted nails scratching against the thighs that were covered with cuffed denim shorts when Jessamine approached, a tad out of breath from jogging.
“Hey,” Jessamine panted lightly, skidding to a halt and wondering how ridiculous she had looked running in her navy blue floral sundress. “What’s going on? Are you alright?”
“I don’t know,” Caroline admitted, her blue eyes wider than usual, this time with fright and anxiety rather than their normal wonder. “That’s why I texted you. I need you to come somewhere with me.”
“Of course,” Jessamine replied immediately, slipping her arm through Caroline’s and pulling the girl into her side. “Where are we going?”
“The drug store. I need to buy a pregnancy test.”
Jessamine’s eyes widened and her lips parted in shock, but she quickly realized that Caroline was practically trembling and probably needed someone to be strong, so she nodded and squeezed her friend’s arm and began guiding her towards the nearest pharmacy. “Ok. Let’s go.”
“You’re not gonna ask?” Caroline said quietly as they walked, her fingers playing with the hem of her striped t-shirt.
“No,” Jessamine replied. “But if you wanna talk, I’m here.”
“Thanks,” Caroline breathed out.
They didn’t talk the entire way to the drug store. They didn’t talk as they stood in the correct aisle and selected the pregnancy test that claimed to be the most accurate. They didn’t talk as Caroline paid with cash and then stuffed the white paper bag into her purse as they exited the store. It wasn’t until they were standing on the sidewalk a few stores down that either of them seemed to breathe again.
“So where do you wanna go now?” Jessamine asked, her fingers curling around the strap of her purse. She knew Caroline wouldn’t want to do something so potentially life changing in a public restroom, so they had to decide whose house to go to. “Are your parents home?”
Nodding, Caroline replied quietly, still trying to process everything that was happening. “Yeah.”
Jessamine wasn’t nearly as calm as she outwardly looked, but she knew being freaked out would only make Caroline more nervous. “So are mine. I think I remember Luce saying something about her parents having plans all day today. She mentioned that she and Kira were excited to have the house to themselves. Maybe we could go there?”
She wasn’t sure whether the Peters were home, but she didn’t want to risk running into their Uncle Nate.
Caroline nodded in agreement, inhaling deeply as they turned to begin the fifteen minute walk to the Saxton house. “Sounds good.”
“Ok,” Jessamine replied efficiently, pulling her phone from her bag. “I’ll text Lucy and give her a head’s up. And Piper to tell her to meet us there. I’m pretty sure she’s not doing anything today.”
Caroline reach out a hand to touch Jessamine’s wrist, just as she sent the text to Lucy. “I don’t know about involving Piper.”
“Why wouldn’t we involve her?” Jessamine asked, genuinely confused. This was a situation in which Caroline needed the people who loved her unconditionally, which included Piper.
“Because what if she tells Brody,” Caroline whispered, her expression ashen.
Jessamine’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and she paused on the sidewalk. “You haven’t told Brody?”
Though, as soon as the words escaped her lips, she realized that made complete sense.
Caroline shrugged, taking a deep breath as they picked up their walking again. “I just figured it would be better not to concern him until I know there’s something to be concerned about. And if Piper gets involved, I feel like she’ll feel obligated to tell him, even if it turns out to be nothing. I know I’d be antsy about the whole thing if it was Kira in this situation and she was asking me not to tell Jamie.”
Sighing, Jessamine scrunched her nose. She supposed that was true, especially since she would protect Tyler at all costs. And Piper and Brody were twins, which meant that their bond was even stronger. They had never been in a situation like this before; where blood related family was being distinguished from family as a whole.
“I guess I see why you would be nervous about getting her involved,” she said slowly, “But if you tell her to keep it a secret, she will. Brody may be her twin, but you’re family too.”
Part of her wanted to add that Brody would probably want to know what was going on, but she knew it wasn’t her place to tell Caroline what she should and shouldn’t do. Jessamine was there for moral support, so she would be supportive as possible without being critical.
“Okay,” Caroline let out a shaky sigh as they turned onto the Saxton’s street. “Tell her to meet us.”
Jessamine turned her attention back to her phone only to find a text from Lucy saying she’d already invited Piper, so Jessamine slipped her phone back into her purse as they turned to walk up to the Saxton’s front door.
Lucy pulled the door open as they approached waving her hand and stepping aside to usher them in, using a soft voice as she spoke. Even if she had no idea what was happening, she had gleaned from the urgency of Jessamine’s text messages that it was important. “Hey, Piper and Kira are up in my room, but you guys should hurry up there cause my parents came home early and if they see you– ”
She was cut off by a new, excited voice entering the conversation.
“Well, look who it is, my favorite nieces.” Ethan strolled into the foyer with a wide grin on his face, his arms outstretched for the customary hugs he gave his band mates’ children, to which Caroline and Jessamine both obliged, stepping back with matching nervous grins on their faces afterwards. “You guys are just hanging out?”
“Yep,” Lucy replied, smiling sweetly and looking the least nervous since she knew the least amount of information of the group. “You know, girl time.”
“Nice,” Ethan grinned, failing to notice how tightly Caroline was clutching her purse and the incriminating object inside it to her side. “Well, have fun. If you want snacks of anything, the fridge and pantry are stocked.”
“Thanks, Uncle Ethan!” Jessamine stepped forward to plant a quick kiss on his cheek and stepped aside to allow Caroline to do the same before the three girls proceeded to sprint up the stairs to Lucy’s room, where they found Piper and Kira relaxing back on the bed as if it were their own, looking at something on Piper’s phone.
“Hey,” Piper said, lifting her eyebrows as the girls entered and Lucy shut the door, setting her phone down by her side and allowing Kira to sit up straight. “What’s the emergency?”
Jessamine glanced at Caroline, silently affirming that everything would be alright as the Brewer girl took a deep breath and pulled the white paper bag from her purse and tossed it to Piper, holding her breath as she and Lucy and Kira pulled the package from inside.
It took all of three seconds for their eyes to widen and their jaws to drop and it was Lucy who spoke first. “Caroline…are you sure?”
“No,” she admitted, reaching up to tug at one of her black ringlets, which were pulled back in a high ponytail. “I’m a few days late, which is unusual because my body is like a clock. Hence the test.”
“Brody?” Piper whispered, the question vague, but making sense to Caroline nonetheless.
Caroline shook her head, smiling gratefully at Jessamine, who had stepped to her side and was rubbing her back comfortingly. “I haven’t told him anything because I didn’t want to worry him if there’s nothing to worry about and … oh my god, Piper, I’m so sorry.”
“Honey…,” Kira softened at the way Caroline’s voice cracked and her eyes began to water, but knew to wait for Piper to swing her legs over the side of the bed and stride over.
Piper wrapped her arms around Caroline and squeezed her tight, turning her head to press a quick kiss to the other girl’s cheek and whispering in her ear. “It’ll be alright, I promise. Everything will be alright. You don’t need to apologize to me or to anyone. These things happen, even when you’re careful.”
Caroline buried her face in Piper’s shoulder, smiling when she felt Jessamine wrap her arms around the two of them from behind and all out grinning when Kira and Lucy flanked her sides. The five of them stood, swaying lightly in a group hug for a full minute, thinking how incredibly lucky they were to have each other until Caroline burst out laughing and they all dropped their arms and stepped apart.
Kira reached over to the bed, grabbing the paper box and holding out towards Caroline. “You got this sweetie. We’re all here if you need us.”
Nodding, Caroline took the box and headed towards Lucy’s bathroom, calling back that she didn’t need any water and shutting the door, leaving the other four girls desperately trying to find ways to occupy their time. Piper scrolled through her Pintrest page, Lucy reorganized her shoe rack, Kira drew doodles into her sister’s comforter, and Jessamine inspected her manicure, but when the door reopened a minute and a half later, they were all on full alert.
Caroline emerged from the bathroom, a plastic stick in one hand and the box with the instructions in the other, shrugging one shoulder. “It hasn’t changed yet. I don’t know if I can look. Jessa, do you mind?”
A little freaked out by the situation, but knowing that Caroline needed her to be strong, Jessamine nodded and took the box and stick and furrowed her brow as she shifted her eyes between the pictures on the box and the small circular window on the test.
“Hey, girls, just wanted to check if you needed anything.” Ethan entered the room without knocking, an action he immediately recognized as a huge mistake, judging by the horrified looks he was getting from his daughters and nieces. He had meant to just excuse himself gracefully, but his gaze landed on Jessamine, or more importantly, the items she was holding in her hand and his eyes widened in horror as he recognized the object after being in a similar situation with the woman who was currently his wife many, many years ago.
Lips parting, he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find words, so he was almost relieved when Kira said, “Dad, you should leave.”
Nodding, he pressed his lips together and shut the door as he stepped back into the hallway, thinking that two decades of being a father hadn’t prepared him for this.
“Shit,” Kira spat out as she stared at the closed door. “How long do you think we have before everyone knows?”
It was a good question, seeing as Ethan had never been particularly good at keeping secrets from his three best friends. And this was one hell of a secret.
“What would he even say, though,” Piper asked, sitting herself on the edge of the bed. “He doesn’t know which one of us the test belongs to.”
“Yeah, but the point is that it does belong to someone,” Lucy pointed out. “That’s reason enough to tell.”
“I can’t believe I’ve dragged all of you into this,” Caroline whispered, crossing her arms over her chest and rubbing her hands up and down. “I’m so sorry. This is such a mess.”
With the test and box still in her hands, Jessamine wrapped her arms around Caroline and squeezed. “Don’t worry, Care, this is the kinda thing we’re supposed to stick together on. And I think we should tell Uncle Ethan that the test is mine.”
“What?” Piper’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
It probably seemed like an insane suggestion, but Jessamine had actually been thinking through it logically. If they said it was Kira’s, then Jamie became involved, because the two had reconnected after Kira returned from her volunteer trip overseas and one could only assume it hadn’t taken them long to get naked, which meant Jack became involved as well. Saying it was Caroline’s roped in Nathan and Brody, same for claiming the test as Piper’s. And they all knew better than to say it was Lucy’s, because as the baby of the family, all hell would break loose if that were the case.
Jessamine explained her reasoning slowly to unconvinced expressions. “Saying it’s mine results in the least amount of carnage. I’m the only one who has to face consequences.”
“What are the consequences, anyway?” Lucy asked, nodding towards Jessamine’s hands. “What does the test say?”
In the midst of freaking about Ethan’s unexpected appearance, they had completely forgotten to check the test’s results. Furrowing her eyebrows, Jessamine’s eyes laser focused on the plastic stick, reading the results carefully before she let out a sigh of relief and smiled and Caroline. “You’re not pregnant.”
“Oh, thank the lord,” Piper let out a deep breath in chorus with everyone else in the room, her gaze flitting to the black. “No offense, cause you and Brody would totally make cute babies someday, but I am so not ready to be an aunt.”
“And I’m so not ready to be a mother,” Caroline agreed, the tremendous amount of emotions coursing through her causing her to lower herself to the floor, legs stretched out, resting back on her palms.
There were grins exchanged until Lucy, hating to be the bearer of bad news, but knowing something had to be said, spoke again. “So problem number two: what about Dad?”
Before Jessamine could reiterate her prior logic, Caroline cut in. “I’m gonna tell him the truth.” She held Jessamine’s gaze to keep her friend from protesting. “I appreciate the offer to protect me and Brody, I do, Jessa, but this happened because of something we did and if the results had turned out differently, we would have been the ones who had to bear the consequences, so I’m going to take responsibility for it and tell Uncle Ethan the truth. Maybe, since things turned out the way they did, he might not say anything to my dad, but if he does, the worst than will happen is that Brody and I will get a lot of disappointed looks and a very long lecture on sex and using protection.”
All of them cringed at the thought, though the idea of Jack giving such a lecture was almost laughable.
“You know, we could sit through that lecture with you, if you like,” Piper offered.
“Really?” Caroline’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, a slow grin stretching her lips. “You guys would do that for me?”
“Sure,” Kira shrugged, because although the idea wasn’t particularly pleasant, they would always be there to support each other. “Besides, chances are that if my dad tells your dad, Uncle Justin and Uncle Nate are gonna find out anyway, which means all of us are inevitably in for a lecture of some sort.”
“Thanks, guys,” Caroline smiled widely, her eyes shining with tears of appreciation as she wondered why she ever thought she would have to go through anything alone.
“No worries,” Lucy piped up, dropping to the floor beside Caroline and wrapping her arms around the older girl’s shoulders for a tight squeeze from the side. “Besides, this is what sisters are for.”