“Devin, get out of the bathroom!”
I rested my forehead on the cool porcelain of the toilet. The smell of acid permeated the room, and I almost felt like being ill again. I tried to pull my heavy head from the bowl, but I couldn’t. My limbs shook and felt hollow. I groaned as I finally uttered, “I’ll be out in ten…”
“That’s what you said ten minutes ago!” Ned crowed again.
I sat up, and then vomit shot up my throat again. I coughed up a green liquid and then dry-heaved. Water welled in my eyes from the force, and I felt a vessel in my eye pop.
“Devin, Mom wants to take you to the doctor. This is getting out of hand. It’s not a nervous tick anymore!”
I moaned, “Please, no.”
Ned opened the door and walked in. I was still not allowed to lock the doors anymore. The counselor was worried I was also showing signs of bulimia nervosa as my vomiting seemed to have increased and my weight decreased. Ned knelt down beside me and scoffed, “Just let her take you. You’ve lost like ten pounds since last month.”
My head still in the bowl, I shook it. “No… please. It’s just anxiety.”
Ned stood up and walked out of the restroom, neglecting to close the door.
I heard him. “Mom, you’ve got to take her. She’s been doing this for a week.”
“I can’t take her without her consent.”
“The psychiatrist is worried it might be an eating disorder.”
“Ned, calm down.”
“I’m not going to calm down. What if it was Lex? Or what if it was me?” It was funny to think one minute he was screaming at me to leave, and the next, he was protecting me. Almost ironic.
I pulled my head from the bowl as I felt a hand flattened against my shoulders. Drool dribbled down my chin, a lead connecting me to my vomit. I lazily opened my heavy eyes and nearly collapsed from the weight of my torso. I focused my eyes on Jennifer and blinked. I computed her existence and then turned back to the bowl. I rested my forehead against my forearm.
I didn’t answer. I was exhausted.
I felt her pinch the top of my hand, and I could see from the corner of my eye my skin was not rebounding like it should. It stood without any sign of receding into its place. I fell back onto my arm, and I felt strong arms wrap around my torso.
“Devin, come on. Jennifer is going to take you to the hospital, okay?” Edgar’s arms seemed so much less stable than Ned’s, and my heart began to break knowing Ned abandoned me again. He left me to his parents—be it for their responsibility or his need to stay away from me.
I gurgled, spitting up on myself, dribbling down the front of my t-shirt. I groaned.
“It’s okay, babe.” Jennifer grabbed a hand towel down and wiped my chin and neck as Edgar dragged me into the passenger seat of her minivan.
We waited in the ER for what seemed like hours. It probably was, but I kept falling asleep and then waking up to spit up again. The nurses finally gave me a little basin to spew into. At one point, I woke up and I was resting my head on Jennifer’s lap. I quickly sat up, embarrassed, but she gently pushed me back down. “Shh, you need a mom right now, okay?”
We locked eyes and then I fell back asleep.
“Devin Sebold, please?”
I sat up and walked over to the nurse with the clipboard. Jennifer meekly followed me, holding the same basin and towel as if they were lucky charms or something her child enjoyed. They took my vitals and weight and height before escorting me to a room that looked very similar to the one I was in the other times I went to the ER. It just wasn’t as stacked with equipment or anything like that.
I immediately flopped onto the bed and curled into a taut ball. A nurse came in and hooked me up to a bag of saline, saying I looked dehydrated, and then took five vials of my blood. A doctor came in after two hours waiting, and he sat down next to Jennifer in the family seating. It was the same man as before: Dr. Williams. Damn my luck. He put out a hand, but I just meekly stared at it. “Hey, Devin, usually I would say I’m glad to see you, but seeing the circumstances. What’s up?”
My eyes went to Jennifer.
She promptly noted, “Devin has been severely sick for the past week, but she’s been vomiting for the past month due to anxiety attacks. She keeps vomiting and can’t seem to hold anything down when she eats or drinks.”
“Well, we’ll put her on Zofran while I go check on her labs, okay? I’ll see you in a little bit, Devin.” Dr. Williams promptly left the room after the two minute consultation and didn’t return for some time.
Sadly, this was almost welcomed because it meant nothing was seriously wrong. I didn’t have internal hemorrhaging or some weird cancer plaguing me. Then again, maybe they wouldn’t be able to find anything and I’d be a fountain for the rest of my life. I felt the covers pull up above my shoulder, and I turned to Jennifer tucking me in. She even managed to dim the light above my head. “Feeling any better?”
I turned back to the wall and stared blankly at it, nodding my head loosely.
“Hey, Devin, I brought a friend.” Dr. Williams shoved back the curtain, and a petite lady came in behind him like a lemming. She dragged a massive podium with an old computer screen and keyboard sitting on top. She stood beside me and gingerly asked me to pull up my shirt. As I did, she squirted this freezing liquid on my abdomen, causing me to pull away. She murmured an apology and then pulled out an ultrasound probe. Dr. Williams nestled beside Jennifer like he did for the initial consultation.
And then I glanced at the screen.
I sat up on the bench, shock circulating through my system and propelling me forward. The ultrasound gel was still frigid from application, and the probe did not bear any heat either. My shirt fell back down with my sudden rush, the gel spreading across the fabric. I propped myself up with my unsteady arms and just stared at the ultrasound tech upon hearing that other heartbeat. I breathed, and then I felt my breathing become irregular. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong with me. “What’s going on?” I muttered.
The woman in navy scrubs turned to the screen and then typed some code in, and the image shifted to another view as she slid the probe across my abdomen. She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow, pressing the probe into my abdomen.
I remembered the way he felt against my bare skin. The way his lips gently pressed against my neck, and how I breathed in raggedly as his fingertips danced across my back. The way his blue and green eyes gazed at me so vibrantly, so lively. The way my back arched as we kissed. The way I was so sure I couldn’t be loved any more by an individual. No one in the world could love me like he did.
It felt like so long ago.
The ultrasound tech gently pressed my shoulder back into the bench and continued to rub the probe across my abdomen. A heart beat resounded throughout the room, and Jennifer just meekly stared at the screen, frozen in her chair. She muttered something under her breath but then searched in her bag for a handkerchief and rubbed her nose.
Dr. Williams finally admitted, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant. Your HCG levels in your blood were elevated, and the ultrasound confirms you have a live fetus.”
My heart stopped, and I twisted my gaze to Jennifer who immediately had tears pouring down her face. She buried her face into her hands, never looking at me. My jaw dropped as I turned back to the monitor to see the faint silhouette of a sea monkey inside of me. Jennifer shrieked, “I thought you said she couldn’t get pregnant!”
He agreed, “I said you couldn’t get pregnant, but I didn’t know you were in the midst of being pregnant.”
“You were either already pregnant or in the process of getting pregnant. Sperm can remain in the vaginal canal for days—an evolutionary adaptation.”
“I’m pregnant,” I repeated, enunciating each syllable. Fear flooded over me as my chest tightened and my breathing labored.
I turned to Jennifer who immediately stood up and left the room. I tried to grab her cardigan to get her to stay with me while I was vulnerable. I was eighteen—I didn’t know how to respond to any of this. I didn’t know what to do with a kid; I didn’t know what I would do about anything anymore. I turned back and forth from the technician to Dr. Williams.“What?”
Dr. Williams moved on bluntly. “Do you know who the father is?”
I think I shit my heart out at that moment. I silently shook my head, and then I buried my face into my hands and just sobbed.
“Devin, who do you think it could be?”
I shook my head.
“What is it?”
I peeled my hands away from my face and muttered, “It can’t be his, can it? It can’t be his, can it?” I just fell into my catatonic state again and began to repeat that one phrase over and over again, terrified that it was true. It was true that it was his.
“There is another issue we must discuss.”
“What?” I piped.
I slunk back onto the gurney and stared at the ceiling as my nightmares soon became reality. Without the stupid medication, I would no longer have a solid base to focus on and would have to solely depend on my body’s natural defenses against seizures. But we all knew that was faulty.
I snapped my eyes open, awoken by yelling. I pulled the sheets off of me and quietly tiptoed down the stairs. I recognized Jennifer’s and Ned’s voices from the kitchen. I expected to hear Edgar joining in on the conversation, but I could hear his boisterous snoring from the master bedroom. I came to the last step and heard him.
“Devin never went to church after Jude went to prison…”
I took a step back onto the stairs and held my breath, hoping to not be heard.
“Ned, it’s not your decision.”
“Well, it’s obviously not just her decision either.”
“You and her need to talk about this. This is a decision that affects the both of you. You don’t need to act as though she can become pregnant any time she wants after this. This is her last chance. She may want to keep it.”
I furrowed my brow and slid down the bannister onto the steps somberly. I gently punched my forehead with a clenched fist, begging to wake up from this awful nightmare, from everything. My hand slid against my abdomen, and I thought of the thing growing inside me. I hadn’t even thought of it as human since I heard the news, and it suddenly became one under my touch, as if its warmth was seeping through my flesh.
“Mom, do you honestly think she can handle a kid right now?”
“She’s under a suicide watch. What do you think she’s going to do to the kid?”
“She doesn’t remember to feed herself and is still in shock after a couple months. She needs to get on with her life, Mom. I’m trying to; why can’t she?”
“Ned, don’t act like what she went through was trivial. It wasn’t.”
“She was fine once Jude went to prison back then. What’s the difference now? Why isn’t she back to normal?”
“You can’t put a deadline on when she’s going to be normal again.”
“All she does, Mom, is…” he trailed off.
“Ned, I know this must be infuriating for you to feel like this, but this kid won’t end everything you hoped for. If worse comes to worse, your father and I will take care of it. We’ll go to court for custody if we feel like she isn’t fit for this.”
“Do you honestly think she will let you do that?”
A sound rustled behind me, startling me. I shot to my feet and pivoted on my heels. Lex stood a few steps above me and asked, “What are you doing up, Devin?”
The two voices stopped in the kitchen. “Devin?” Jennifer called.
“She’s right here, Momma,” Lex obediently relayed.
I fell to my knees and collapsed on the landing, staring at Lex. She twisted around nonchalantly and leapt up the stairs two at a time. I clenched my fists and beat them into the side of my thighs angrily. “Devin?” she called again. I pulled myself to my feet and sauntered into the kitchen, the bright lights blinding me.
Ned stood beside his mother, his eyes nailed into me, widened as if he was surprised I heard him. His navy t-shirt fit the curve of his chest and back, and his boxers hit him just above the knee. I shifted my eyes to the floor to evade his watch and slunk closer to the two of them.
“How long were you up there?” Jennifer inquired.
“Look, Devin, we were just—“
I glared at Jennifer. “Just, what? Just talking about how crazy I am? How I’m not able to take care of myself, let alone a baby? How I can’t control anything?”
“No, no, I’m done hearing your explanations. I’m so done. I’m done pretending like I’m okay with all of this. I’m done pretending I understand where you’re coming from because I don’t. Quite frankly, it’s my body, and I can do whatever I want with it.”
Ned finally met my gaze and advised, “Devin, what are you going to do with that kid? Yeah, it’ll be something that loves you unconditionally, and yeah, you’ll have someone to love. Other than that, what good will it do you? How are you going to feed it? Mom won’t help you forever. Clothes? School? Supplies? How about that job? Hmm? Wait, you don’t have one.”
“Ned, that’s not fair,” I whispered.
“Neither will life be to your kid.”
“Our,” I corrected.
“No, what if it’s not? I don’t know who all you slept with when we were together.”
“Ned!” his mother snapped.
I stumbled, “No, no, he’s right.”
“I mean, you’ve slept with how many people?” Ned cocked his brow with agitation.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Is it? Isn’t it?”
“Ned, stop,” his mother warned.
“I mean, what kid wants a whore for a mom who can’t tell them who their father is. You can’t tell them anything.”
“Ned, you want to know something?” I whispered.
“I didn’t sleep with anyone except you for the past three years until that night. And the only people I slept with then were you and my—“
“Just say it, just say it, Devin. Get it out in the open. Your other boyfriend—your daddy.”
Jennifer turned her stern gaze to me as if it was my fault this all happened. It was as if I wanted to be pregnant without knowing who the father was.
“Go to hell!” Heat rushed to my face as tears began to spill over my eyelids.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be there right beside you so you won’t be lonely!”
“You dick… You’re such a dick.”
“Guess what? This dick is taking you to the abortion clinic tomorrow to get that incest out of you.”
“Ned, what if she doesn’t want that?” Jennifer chimed in.
Ned turned to his mother and shoved a finger in my face. I wanted to rip it the fuck off and shove it up his ass. “She’s atheist, Mom. She doesn’t care where that freaking kid goes. She doesn’t care if she aborts that stupid thing.”
I wailed, “What if it’s yours? Huh? What if it’s yours?”
He twisted his face to me and hissed, “It’s your body. I don’t care about it.” With that, he left the kitchen and stomped up the stairs. I counted his steps, making sure he went up the twenty-four steps before slamming his bedroom door. As soon as I heard the click of his lock, I collapsed in the middle of the kitchen.
“Devin, he didn’t mean that,” Jennifer tried to soothe.
I shook my head whilst grimacing, “No, no, he really meant it.”
She left to go upstairs after him, and I counted her twenty-four stairs before she knocked on his door. “Ned! Come on, let me in!” And then I burst into animalistic sobs, no longer caring for restraint or the need to be silent.
I waited impatiently in the SUV for her to come down from upstairs. I already made an appointment for a little while, and she was going to force us to miss it. I honked the horn again angrily.
I couldn’t tell you who I was angry at, I just was. Angry at God for letting this happen to Devin. Angry at God for doing this to me. Just angry at God because He was supposed to be this great Guardian who protected everyone, but He doesn’t. I guess He truly does pick favorites in this world—or maybe He picks those who aren’t his favorites.
Devin slammed open the door and thundered down the garage steps. My eyes pulled up to see her wearing a sweat-suit and a camisole she wore when I saw her at the store one time, picking up dog biscuits. I turned back my eyes to the steering wheel as she climbed into the passenger seat and quickly buckled her seat belt.
We drove silently. Her eyes were glued to the road, and her hand rested on her abdomen, as if she was cradling her child for the last time. I finally muttered, “You don’t have to do this.”
She glanced at me and then turned her gaze back to the horizon without answering me.
I parked, and she immediately hustled out of the passenger side before I could turn off the engine. I peeled out of my seat quickly and followed her inside. It was weird because it wasn’t unlike the scene from that Juno movie. A mom of multiple children sat in one corner of the room with one of her children throwing a tantrum in the middle of the floor, and a young woman sat across the way with an unlit cigarette positioned out of the corner of her mouth despite the many reprimands from the secretary.
Devin grabbed a magazine and a stack of papers she needed to fill out and scratched away all of her information, never peeling away from the page as if just an idle thought would prevent her from going through with this. I nestled beside her, and she ignored me as I corrected her as she scribbled down her old address. She scratched through it and wrote mine. Her left hand rested on her left knee, and I tried to hold her hand, knowing she was probably terrified. She brushed my fingertips, as if she wanted to, but then pulled away as she realized she and I were not in the best of places in our relationship. I tucked my hand in my lap and focused all of my attention on the herd of children across the way destroying the coffee table, fighting each other, and trying to figure out what the free balloons were (surprise, condoms).
She took her papers and stood up. She took a step, but I snatched her jacket before she could leave. I whispered with a furrowed brow, “It’ll be okay, alright?”
Devin’s eyes shone for a minute, and I thought she would immediately bend and not follow through with this. I thought she would collapse in my arms and just break down, but she was stronger than I gave her credit for. She turned back to the woman and walked down the corridor into a world I did not know.
I clenched my hands into taut fists.
I pulled away from her for a moment, and I smiled from ear to ear. Our eyes locked, and she gave me a smirk. “What?”
“This feels right,” I whispered.
She slowly nodded and gave me a small kiss. “I’m glad you think so, too.” She lay back and nuzzled my hand with her full lips, gently closing her eyes. Her nude skin reflected the moonlight streaming in from my window, and I leaned across her to pull the blinds up. She turned her eyes to the starry sky outside and whispered quietly, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”
“I’ve seen something better.”
I turned my gaze back to her and folded my lips over hers.
I leaned over, rubbing my eyes with heels of my hands fervently, trying to forget.
Her electric blue eyes blinked slowly as we just stared into each other, trying to catch our breath. My hand rested on the curve of her waist, and her hands fell on my chest, pressing lightly against me. She heaved a sigh before stating, “I could stay like this forever.”
I nodded and pulled her hand to my lips. “Promise?”
“Goddammit,” I whispered. I pounded my hand against my kneecap and sat up, staring at the door. “Goddammit.”
“Only if you promise to stay like this, too.”
She leaned in and brushed her minute nose against mine. Her warm breath fell over my face as she whispered, “Ned, I wish I could be with you forever.”
I cradled her chin gently. “What’s stopping you?”
I combed through my hair roughly and splayed my hair out in all different directions.
“I can fix that.”
“I wish you could.”
“You’ll get hurt.”
“Not at hurt as knowing you don’t love me.”
She pulled away from me, her eyes quivering as she traced my features. Her fingertips brushed against the edge of my jawline as she gave me a somber smile. “You know, sometimes physical pain is worse than the emotional pain.”
I whispered, “I’d take the physical over the emotional.”
She slowly shook her head, the smile fading. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“If I have to, I’ll take it. Just let me fix it.”
“I wish you could.”
“You won’t even let me try?”
I gently smashed my head into my knee, begging for the memories to stop cascading over every thought coming into my mind. “No, no, no…”
“Nope.” She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me to her. She whispered against my lips, “Sometimes, you remind me of who I should be, what I should be.” I leaned into her lips and displaced the space between us, becoming one. She pulled away and nuzzled my neck with the curve of her nose.
“God, please,” I silently pleaded.
“I’m going to miss this.”
Devin stalked out of the corridor suddenly and rushed to the exit. I shot out of my chair and followed after her hurriedly. “Devin!” I called, but she refused to turn to me. She got to the car and tried to crank open the passenger side door. I sauntered up to her and asked, “What happened? Is everything okay?”
“Ned, open the car door.”
“…You went through with it.”
She abruptly faced me and roared, “Open the stupid door!” Her wan face had tears pouring down from her glassy eyes, and I pulled the keys out of my pocket and unlocked the door. She climbed inside and slammed the door shut. I noticed she left her jacket inside and there was a bandage wrapped around her arm.
“Dev, you left your jacket.”
“Please, just let me go. Please.”
I shuffled inside myself and started the car, beginning the trek to my house. I furtively eyed her occasionally, worried about her stability. I noticed she would heave a sigh occasionally, and I saw her chest rise and fall dramatically. A tear would stream down her face every once and a while, but she would not wipe it away and would not sniffle or cry. She was a machine only capable of producing tears. She grimaced deeply and shook her head suddenly—the most movement I had seen her produce in nearly half an hour.
“Ned, just don’t talk to me.”
“Devin, come on.”
“No, please. Just please.”
I parked the car in the garage, and she immediately stormed out.
I turned to my wheel and slapped it with my hands repetitively until my hands became rugged and sore from the impact. I let out an infuriated yelp and finally just rested my forehead on the wheel. My shoulders shuddered as I tried to be strong and choke back the tears that were threatening to pour from my eyes. I clenched my jaw and murmured, “Goddammit.”
I was losing her, but she was losing me more quickly.
I stared blankly at the scars across my arms and the ones across my abdomen in the mirror. I begged for the pain to cease while the fetus grew inside me, but the lack of medication for my episodes continued to haunt me. Constantly, I feared a seizure would come about and take my baby away from me.
I knew I should have told Ned the truth about the baby. I know I should have, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He would have thought I was weak and hypocritical. I promised myself that I would tell Ned if the baby was his, but I could feel in my bones that it wasn’t. I was hoping I would be proven wrong in the most alarming way. I sat there and prayed in the abortion clinic that it was his, and I guess that’s what stopped me.
I was already on the table in a gown, and the doctor was examining me tediously as his assistant needlessly stood beside him. I was afraid she was just there to observe, and my aversion to vulnerability and her access to it made me irate. The blood flustered my chest and face, heat radiating from my skin. I felt his hand on the inside of my thigh, and I tensed. “Relax, sweetheart.”
The worse part of the procedure room was everything was sterile to the point of pungent scents and scenes. The materials and equipment reflected my blushing face and chest as I tried to distract myself from the uneasy procedure. Something in my gut proceeded to bombard me with warnings and hesitations to allow this all to take place. A part of me couldn’t let this happen.
I abruptly sat up and closed my legs. I whispered, tears swelling in my eyes from frustration and unease, “I can’t do this.”
“Ma’am, a lot of women are nervous when it comes to this procedure. It’ll be alright, I promise. Nervousness is normal.” The doctor placed a hand on my shoulder and tried to push me back onto the table.
I resisted. “No, I’m serious. I cannot do this.” I ripped out the IV and all of the monitoring equipment, and I noticed the assistant frantically began waving her arms like a bird of flight, alarmed I was destroying the set-up. I marched down the hallway in my paper gown after busting through the doors much to the chagrin of other nurses and patients. Disgust could have been the expressions on their faces. I found my locker and quickly shoved my clothes on and marched out of there with tears readying to spill down my cheeks.
I don’t know if I should have done it. It just didn’t feel right.
I placed my hand over my abdomen and noticed the small curve protruding from my bones. I gave a small smile as I rubbed it, hoping she could feel me and hear me. Hoping she knew how much I already loved her.
“Devin, what are you doing?”
I turned up to see Ned at the door. I pulled my shirt down and slid past him without a reply. He would find out eventually; I just needed to see if my body would keep my treasure or destroy it like my dreams.