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“You… you’re what?” Mom stares at me with wide eyes that drift down to my belly. As I’m nowhere near showing, she finds nothing that can confirm the news she wishes she wasn’t hearing from me right now.

“Pregnant. I think around six weeks.”

“How… how do you know?”

“I’m late. I took a test.”

“Who? How?” she mutters as she sinks slowly into a chair. My usually robust single mom, who works three jobs to keep us afloat, looks crumpled and defeated. She’s only thirty-eight, but suddenly she seems so much older.

“Justin,” I say.

“Cathy’s boyfriend?” Her eyebrows raise as her eyes narrow.

“He’s not her boyfriend. They broke up months ago.”

Mom shakes her head, then drops her face to her hands. I see her shoulders rise and fall as she inhales deeply. Does she feel faint, or is she trying to push down her anger and frustration? I’ve never had to face my mom with anything like this, so I have no idea how she’s going to react.

“Are you okay, Mom?” I ask.

She raises her head slowly, as though she’s aged and weary, and shakes it, closing her eyes as though she can shut out reality. “Did I teach you nothing? Did you learn nothing from watching me… from knowing how hard things are for me? I thought you knew. I thought you understood. I thought I had you on the right track.”

“You did, Mom. It was a mistake… an accident.”

“Oh God,” she says. “You were having sex with your friend’s ex-boyfriend. I take it he’s not going to be interested in helping you.”

I shake my head.

“Of course.” Mom’s eyes roll as though Justin’s reluctance is a universal fact when it comes to teen pregnancy. “There’s still time for us to deal with this. I can call someone. Make arrangements.”

“I don’t want that,” I say calmly. “I couldn’t do that. You didn’t do that.”

I can see how much she wants to tell me that she should have done. I know my mom loves me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve made her life more challenging by existing.

“I’m calling Justin’s mom. She needs to know what her son has done. That family needs to take some responsibility.”

I take a seat on the black leather chair that we brought back from Grandad’s house when he passed. He’d be disappointed with me too. All the hopes he had for Momma passed on to me. Now they’ll pass on to the child inside me that is barely more than a few cells.

“There’s no point in doing that. It won’t change anything. I know this isn’t what you wanted for me. I know this isn’t the ideal situation. I know that everything will be hard, but I can’t go back and make it different. I can’t change what’s happened. All I can do is try to make the best of it.”

“I thought I was almost done,” Mom says. “I thought you were almost ready to fly the nest, and I could have some time, maybe cut one of my jobs, take a vacation…” Her voice trails away, and my stomach sinks. She thinks this is the end of her dreams, too, and that breaks my heart.

“I don’t need you to do anything, Mom. I’m going to take care of everything.”

She shakes her head, like the very idea that I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet is too foolish even to hear. “In fact, forget Justin’s mom. I’m calling your dad,” she says. “It’s time that he stood up and took some responsibility for you. He’s a grown man at least, unlike Justin.”

She grabs her phone from the coffee table and starts swiping through her contacts. I haven’t spoken to my dad for nearly a decade. Not since the argument. I don’t think Mom has spoken to him in that time either. Now she’s gonna call him and tell him I’m pregnant. My cheeks heat with shame. Mom puts the phone to her ear, waiting for him to answer. I see her frown. “Is Dale there?” she asks. “I’m Sherry, his daughter’s mother.”

Whoever has picked up the phone talks for a long time while Mom’s face changes from riled-up to shocked. Who the hell has answered Dad’s phone? “I can’t believe it,” Mom says as she slumps back against the green cord of the sofa. “When?”

I wish she’d put this on speakerphone, so I’d know what the hell is going on. “Tomorrow,” she says softly.

Mom pulls the phone from her ear and stares at it for a while, as though she can’t believe what she heard is actually real. “Your dad…” Her eyes meet mine, and they’re swimming with unshed tears. “He died.”

“What?” A swell of aching hurt fills my chest, my throat a burning lump. My dad died.

“That was your Uncle Walter. He was trying to call me, but he had an old number.”


“Three weeks ago. It was in his sleep. It was his heart.”

I know my dad’s father died from a heart attack in his sleep too. I feel like I should be crying. I want to cry too, but the tears won’t fall. There’s too much resentment and hurt in the way. Too much shock. Too much guilt too.

My dad has been dead for three weeks, and I didn’t know. I didn’t feel it in my bones. His family didn’t even know how to get in touch with me. “Did they bury him?”

Mom nods. “Two days ago. I’m sorry, honey. I’m so sorry.”

I shrug, desperately trying to hold myself together. “We haven’t talked for so many years.”

Mom stands and comes to kneel in front of me, putting her hand to rest on my knee. “That doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt, okay? That doesn’t mean that you can’t be upset. Relationships are complicated. I know you had your reasons, good reasons, for not wanting to keep a relationship with your dad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mourn this.”

“I don’t want to be upset,” I say. “It doesn’t feel right. I should have known… I should have been there, but I wasn’t. I didn’t feel that he wasn’t here anymore. We didn’t have a connection.”

Mom squeezes my knee, trying to reassure me. If she was honest, she could say a whole lot. How pigheaded, I am, just like my dad. How I said things I shouldn’t have said, and then couldn’t forgive my dad for responding in a less-than-perfect way. Relationships are complicated, but fathers shouldn’t let words come between them and their kids. They should understand that sometimes children lash out in hurt and disappointment. They should forgive.

“You said something about tomorrow?”

Mom nods. “Uncle Walter is going to call you tomorrow. He has things he needs to speak to you about… your dad’s will. What happens next.”

“Will? He can’t have left me anything in a will. We haven’t been in touch for a decade.”

“As far as I know, you’re his only child. Who else is he going to leave his worldly possessions to? Your Uncle Walter doesn’t need it. He’s got that chain of motorcycle stores, at least he used to.”

“I think I need to get some fresh air,” I say. I know my mom means well but having her so close feels almost claustrophobic.

“Okay, honey. Maybe take a walk. Or go out into the yard. And if you want to talk, let me know.”

She climbs up off the floor, and I head for the front door, feeling her eyes on me as I leave. How quickly our fight about my condition disappeared when worse news was discovered. The air is warmer outside than I’d like it to be. There should be rain on sad days: rain and wind, the sun obstructed by clouds the color of misery.

I walk for an hour, not really taking in where I’m going but managing a loop of our neighborhood, which brings me back home, and in that hour, I tell myself that I can’t indulge in crying. I can’t indulge in regret. The child in my belly needs me to do better than that.

Everything else just has to be pushed down deep inside me and locked away tightly in a box.


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