Seventeen Ways to Say I’m Pregnant
I. As It Dawns
On a ten-hour flight, Gemma realizes her period is two weeks late. Minutes ago, pictures of her Eat, Pray, Love adventure to Indonesia—the leathery elephants and the crumbling stone temples and the bursting volcanoes—scrolled past on her phone screen. Then, a nagging suspicion provoked her to tap over to the calendar. Now, an unruly tremor possesses her foot, and the recycled airplane air feels drier than before, insufferably hot. From the confines of her seat, she strains to rip the sweatshirt from her body. It gets tangled in her long, frizzy hair
Breathe in, breathe out, let the point of light at your center expand, the meditation leader in Yogya had said. With eight flight hours remaining, letting her light expand will be troublesome. She’s not even certain of the father. It’s most likely Ethan’s. The man she dated for three years and then broke up with for this ludicrous trip. Ended things right after quitting her job. But then again, there was that man in Bali. English Craig. All she knows is his name and country of origin. And that he really loves gin. No contact information was exchanged. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but she justifies it to herself as an adventurous first night. She wasn’t supposed to take a part of him home with her.
II. Googling “reasons other than pregnancy for a late period”
Gemma splurges on the airplane Wi-Fi. Might as well. She’s still technically on her trip, the biggest splurge of her lifetime.
III. Accompanied by Symptomatic Bloating
She lands in Qatar and discovers the country is as conservative as the one she just left. There’s no chance of finding a pregnancy test here, let alone a tampon. Instead, she has another eight-hour flight before stepping onto American soil where anyone can buy a pregnancy test at the dollar store.
Right now, sitting at the gate, she feels pregnant. She previously blamed the bloating on all the rice and all the alcohol. If she’s pregnant, her baby has been drinking right along with her. That makes her feel trashy. Well, of course it does; she’s either pregnant from the man who will never forgive her or a one-night stand who cannot be contacted to be informed of his child. If she keeps the baby, that is. She’s a modern woman, empowered. She knows she has options. She’s seen every season of Teen Mom.
IV. To the Airport Pharmacy Clerk, Finally
As the plane approaches JFK for another layover, Lady Liberty welcomes Gemma. It feels like a good sign. America. Land of the Free. The place where you have the liberty to pursue your own life’s purpose before considering child rearing as a single, twenty-something. She’s at the door of the airplane before the fasten your seatbelt light is off. The flight attendants don’t take too kindly to it. But what can they do? The light’s off now.
She’s jittery, pushing past women, children, and the elderly to get through customs faster. She’s manic, squirrely manic. The customs employee scrutinizing her passport discerns odd behavior and questions more thoroughly than normal. He finally releases her. She sprints, whips her carryon around corners, asks airport employees for the location of a pharmacy. They point. She sees it down a long hallway of moseying, irritable passengers. A foot into the store, she shouts at the nice young girl—probably childless, she notes—tending the counter.
“Pregnancy tests,” she says. “Where are the pregnancy tests?”
The pharmacy clerk raises her eyebrows, scratches her lip with too-long, scarlet nails. She reaches a hand down below the counter and slowly, slowly pulls up a happy pink box.
“Here,” she says.
“Great! Thanks!” Gemma pushes past a man who would have otherwise reached the counter before her.
“$15.95,” the clerk says.
“Fifteen ninety-what?!” Gemma blurts out. “Never mind. Got it.”
The race is on again. To the bathroom this time. That process is much easier. Surprisingly, she finds an empty women’s bathroom. She hasn’t been this alone in a month. In Indonesia, there were people everywhere, always. She pauses for a moment, the silence almost foreign. She takes the big stall, because what the hell.
She squats. She pisses. She waits.
V. For the First Time, Out Loud
Breathe in, breathe out, let the point of light at your center expand.
The phone alarm sings its nasty song. She closes her eyes a moment longer. Counts down from ten. Looks.
A tiny pink plus sign. The first thing she thinks of is Ed Sheeran’s first album. That plus was orange. For him, it meant positivity. For her, it means—
“I’m fucking pregnant,” she says, a breathless whisper.
She throws away the test and washes her hands. Everything is happening in slow motion. Her breathing, her pulse have slowed. The shaking has retreated from her hands.
Walking is as trying as that hike in the Sumatran jungle. Her boots are sticking in the orange mud, her hands are clawing at the side of the mountain, grasping at vines, rock, moss, anything to stay upright.
VI. To Every Passing Suitcase, and Not Mom
“Gemma! Oh, I’ve missed you!” she hears Mom from behind her. Gemma feels the weight of hands on her shoulders. Luggage mechanically passes by on a conveyor belt at Richmond International Airport. She strains to rip her eyes away.
“Hey Mom,” Gemma says looking up at last.
“Oh, you look down, honey. Aren’t you excited to be home?”
“I’m tired.” Gemma keeps it at that. Mom doesn’t need to know more, yet.
Gemma will tell her. She tells her everything. They’re kind of best friends in an unhealthy way. When Gemma was a preteen and Mom and Dad got divorced, Mom leaned on her. Then, in high school, when Mom’s sister, Aunt Tildy died, she leaned on Gemma even harder. Gemma learned to lean on her right back. Gemma’s not ready to tell her yet, because Mom will want to lean on her, and she needs to be ready for that. So, instead, she stands with Mom quietly, waiting for her bag to pass.
Mom rubs her back. She either thinks something is wrong or thinks Gemma’s trip changed her. Both worry her. Both are true.
VII. To Several Screens
Gemma composes countless messages to Ethan. She deletes every one.
VIII. When Only Her Body Knew
Gemma vacillated between screaming and crying and laughing and five-year-old indignancy. Ethan would have thought she was three sheets to the wind, but her words were razor sharp and clear as day. She was leaving, and she wouldn’t hear anything from him about it. Ethan stood by and watched from the bedroom doorway as she threw things into any bag she could find. She held up a candle from the bedside table, nearly burnt to the bottom, and asked, “Is this yours or mine?” He didn’t know how to answer that. This apartment was theirs, had been theirs for years. How could he begin to divide what separated them? She tossed it in the bag.
Gemma kept bringing up Indonesia. Ethan couldn’t have pointed to it on a map. Tildy went there, she said. She slapped a fading photograph into his hand, of Tildy standing next to an elephant, like it was some sort of proof that her plan was logical. She never considered that he might want to come with her, be with her in all of it. His practical questions sent her tearing through the place with her bags.
Thirty minutes later she was gone. Twenty-four hours after that, she was on her runaway plane.
IX. From the Beginning
Gemma brazenly avoids her mom the first two days back in Richmond, citing jet lag. She has temporarily taken up residence in her childhood bedroom. She decides, on that third morning, to seek out guidance.
Valerie Stokes, she thinks, is the answer.
An old friend. Someone she trusts. Someone who is suited to negotiate the pregnancy question. Valerie is the type of friend that you can carelessly ignore for years at a time and then meet by chance at a Cheesecake Factory, abandoning your respective dates for a second dinner that lasts for three hours. Just such a meeting occurred eighteen months ago. Gemma and Valerie spent limited time together after, but Valerie wasn’t living in Richmond at the time, merely visiting. They drifted again. Before her trip, Gemma noticed on Facebook that Val, as Gemma calls her, had returned to Richmond after finishing her master’s program.
Val responds immediately to Gemma’s SOS, just as Gemma expected she would. Now, Gemma sits at a table in a West End Wawa, sipping her gas station coffee black, fidgeting, waiting. Her hood covers long, unbrushed hair, and she wears an unpleasant grimace. Passerby may think she doesn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. That’s simply fictitious. In fact, she cares a whole hell of a lot about a whole hell of a lot.
The bell on the door jingles. Valerie enters, almost needing to duck to prevent knocking her forehead against the doorframe. Gemma always winces when Val walks under low clearances, but also, she knows Val is equally aware of her height as everyone else. She is slim and muscular in an elegant way, the same as when they played volleyball together back in high school.
Gemma’s eyes burn the instant Val walks in. She springs from her chair to envelop Val’s torso. Val hugs back just as fiercely. She realizes the severity of this SOS call; as Val knows, it could go either way with Gem, as Val calls her. To Gem, seeing Val is akin to being on the verge of tears and having someone touch your shoulder, which leads to you absolutely losing your composure. Val guides Gem back to the table, and then approaches the counter for a coffee of her own. Extra energy will be vital, she resolves.
“Girl, what’s going on?” Val inquires upon taking her seat. She rubs Gemma’s arm, kind of like how Mom does, but sweeter.
“Everything is totally crazy,” Gemma says shaking her head, eyes expansive. This moment has been mounting in her chest, preventing easy breathing. Breathe in, breathe in, breathe in, and then she gets stuck.
“It’s okay. Let’s talk it out,” Val says. “Start at the beginning.”
“It was that whack-ass copier,” she says. She hangs her head.
“Like at work?”
“Karen from Accounting forgot to re-load the paper again. That was it. I was done. I made a complete ass of myself.”
Gem informs Val of the overbearing ennui that resulted in the scandalous incident with the copy machine. The half-year at community college, the temping, the full-time cubical at Payroll Central. She had meant for the position to be temporary, to allow time for exploration and discovery, to establish the optimal course of study, optimal course of life. The exploration eventually devolved into watching Netflix and, how else she spent her time, Gem wasn’t quite sure. As a side-note, she dated men infrequently. There was M—.
“Then there was Ethan,” Gem says.
“You guys have been together for a long time now, right?”
“Almost three years. Not anymore though.”
“Oh, girl. I’m sorry.” She believes Gem has reached the end of the story.
“I couldn’t figure out why he cared so much about this job that I hated anyway.” Gemma says. “I was telling him how there are a million jobs like that out there. And all he said is that I already had one.”
“Those arguments can get out of control fast. How are you doing now?”
“I think Indonesia helped,” Gemma says looking past her confidant, into the distance. “Kind of.” She continues, focusing back on Val, “You know Indonesia?”
“Um, Southeast Asia?” she asks tentatively. “You went there?”
After fighting with Ethan, Gem sought out Mom for solace, but found a deserted house. Mom was away on a ladies trip to Las Vegas, Gem remembered. While resting on the couch, perseverating on the unproductive argument with Ethan, she noticed a dusty photo album on the book shelf. It contained memories of Tildy’s trip abroad. Gemma couldn’t immediately recall the exact location. It appeared natural, spiritual, peaceful. Some google sleuthing unearthed Indonesia. It also revealed a plethora of moderately-priced travel packages.
“I saved up some money from not doing much of anything really over the last however many years. And Ethan’s the super of his building, so I haven’t had a rent payment for a while.”
“So, why not?” Valerie asks.
“Well, that was my thought, but Ethan couldn’t believe I would buy tickets without talking to him, like he would’ve ever even considered it. It happened so fast. I don’t even remember, like, who said the words, but I grabbed a bunch of stuff, and, when I walked out of our apartment, I knew we were done. Then a day later, I was gone. Stayed for a month.” As a side-note, she said the words.
“Damn. A month is a long time!” Val says. “What was it like over there?”
Gem gives Val a brief overview—the motorcycle-packed roadways, holding hands with an orangutan, the many sunrises. She finds she detests talking about it, tainting the perfection by letting other people into it. She tells Val about English Craig. Val pushes Gem’s shoulder, and says, “Get it, girl!”
“You don’t even know.” Gem covers her face with rattling hands. Whenever she thinks about the fetus nestled inside, her hands vibrate in want occupation.
“Girl,” Val says softly. “What happened?”
After a minute, Gem slides her hands to reveal only her mouth. “I’m pregnant.”
After a lengthy pause, Val finally says, “Wow.”
“I know. What am I gonna do, Val?”
“Well,” she says returning to Gem. “You have three options.”
“I don’t even know if this thing is viable. I don’t even know whose it is.” Gemma slaps her belly with both hands. She regrets both the gesture and the words immediately, ashamed of herself for behaving as if this miniscule human bears no significance.
“You know now, though, right Gem? That’s good, at least.” Gem nods, lifting the coffee cup to her lips. Valerie gently guides it back down to the tabletop before she can take a sip. “We should schedule an appointment.”
X. Behind the Wheel of a Red Jeep Cherokee
Screaming over blaring punk rock.
XI. On Line 15 of Form B-175
The Planned Parenthood waiting room smells like the hospital. Val’s thoughts go to the time she came here. Gem says it reminds her of Tildy. Her knees are bouncing. Val chose a more-conservative-than-usual outfit today. It seems irrelevant now that they’re here, and she’s filling out Gem’s forms in her slow, exact handwriting. It’s strange for her to be on this side.
Val’s nervous, too. She hopes Gem doesn’t pick up on it. Val needs to tell Gem what she saw yesterday. She should’ve mentioned it in the car, but Gem commanded the conversation once she got in. She’s running out of time.
She says quickly, “Have you gotten back onto social media yet?” Gem went on a hiatus during her trip.
“No, not yet,” Gem says. “Trying to fly under the radar still.” Gem has been picking up on Val’s weirdness—soft voice, church girl clothes—since she picked her up. She thinks Val might be feeling a little self-important, the friend of the pregnant girl. Gem asks, “What’s wrong with you?”
“There’s something I have to tell you,” Val says. “You’ll want to know sooner rather than later.”
“Okay, tell me,” Gem says. She’s irritated, for good reason.
“After we talked the other day, I looked up Ethan online. I never met him, besides that one time at Cheesecake. I wanted to see what he was all about, what he was up to now. And, well…”
“What?” Gem goads her on.
“It seems like he might be dating someone. He has Instagram photos with a girl, Kailey. Do you know her?”
“I think it’s his sister’s friend. Really small, really curly hair?”
“Exactly. There are more on her Instagram, too. He’s—well—kissing her in one.”
“I’m sorry, girl,” Val says. What else could help? Val puts a hand on her jiggling knee. It bounces up and down.
XII. & XIII. To Dr. Brown and the Employee of the Month at Wendy’s
Back in the car, Val asks, “Are you sure this is your choice?”
“Yah, it’s kind of the only option I have,” Gem says.
The doctor was pretty quick in telling Gem that she’s definitely pregnant. Four to five weeks. That week disparity makes a big difference in her life, she told the doctor. The doctor said she couldn’t be more accurate than that. Any guess at a date of conception is, just that, a guess. And, there’s no finding out the identity of the father until the kid is born.
The doctor talked through all of it. Birth, adoption, abortion. Gemma tuned out. Val listened for her. She asked some questions. Gem imagined herself giving birth, having a slimy, wiggling baby on her chest. At first, she pictured Ethan in the hospital room with her, in their apartment together with the baby between them on the plush yellow comforter of their bed. It made her content, calm, but then she realized that scenario was impossible. Ethan flickered from her imaginings like a broken TV. Then it was her in the hospital bed alone. It was her bouncing a crying baby on her hip in a tiny apartment. Her with a pile of bills and no food in the fridge. Her startled awake by shrieks and wails. She resurfaced to both the doctor and Val looking at her expectantly. Decision time.
She scheduled an abortion in two weeks.
“I think the other options are equally as possible, Gem,” Valerie says now, from the passenger seat. “I don’t want you to feel backed into a corner. You wouldn’t be alone. Your mom, your family. You have backing. Even if Ethan wasn’t around. Or, if you wanted to go the adoption route, that’s beautiful, Gemma.”
Gem doesn’t understand why Val’s glorifying this. Gem understands that she’s old enough to have a kid, able to make this work. This isn’t right for her, not right now. That’s what she’s forcing herself to think, because any other alternative isn’t fair. Not to anyone in the situation—herself, the kid, Mom, Ethan.
“That sounds terrible, Val,” she says, starting the ignition. “I don’t want to be that person. I want to have a kid eventually, but not like this.”
“Sometimes life goes the way it’s meant to, Gem.” Gem glances over at Val, but she’s staring through the windshield.
They pull up outside of Valerie’s place, after running through Wendy’s, of course. Gemma’s frosty is already half gone, along with the obligatory fries. Always the health conscious one, Val ordered a salad. Gem told her that the salads were just as bad for you as the burgers, so she might as well indulge. “Don’t tell me that,” Val said, laughing. She ended up taking a few of Gem’s frosty-dipped fries. Gem was grateful for Val’s distraction since pulling out of the Planned Parenthood parking lot.
Val looks at her now and says, “I have one last thing to say before I go.”
“Please get in touch with Ethan, Gemma. You guys should talk things out. Think about it, Gem, okay?” Gem agrees and smiles. She watches Val walk up to her apartment. She wonders when she’ll see her again, if it’ll be soon, or years from now when they need each other again.
XIV. Test Run Memory
Gemma and Ethan happened fast. Had only been dating for about a month by the time she was hauling her haphazardly packed boxes into his place. Her lease was ending. It made the most sense. It didn’t take her too long to get comfortable. It never takes her much time at all to feel comfortable somewhere, he learned.
Ethan had a hard time adjusting to it. Any regular, strait-laced kind of man would’ve gotten fed up with her dirty dishes in the sink and clothes strewn across the bedroom floor. It’s just carelessness, and he told her as such. Just think, Gemma. He was always saying that. But her mind moves too fast to focus on anything for long, especially anything serious. Even so, Ethan told anyone who would listen, “She’s the sweetest thing. Funny. Light-hearted nature.”
But man, could she get him riled up.
Like the time she brought home that godforsaken pig. She called it Molly. A little pig with a human sounding name. She said that’s what made it cute. Ethan said it’s an animal; it belongs on a farm.
He was coming back from a Flying Squirrels game with his buddies, buzzing from a couple cold ones. He walked in and that little thing was trotting all over their new carpet. Sure, he bent down to pat it on the head. It squeaked and snorted its way around his boots. He doesn’t hate animals or anything, but come on. He looked at Gem, sitting there on the floor, face glowing, proud of herself, glass of that white grape juice tasting wine in her hand.
“Gem, what the fuck?” he said, squatting to get a good look at it.
“What?” she said giggling. “Brit posted it on Facebook. I couldn’t resist.”
“This is our Molly. A baby mini-pig. She’ll stay this size. Isn’t she cute? Had to snatch her up before someone else did. Who could say no?”
“Like as a pet?” he asked standing up.
“Yah, what else?”
“For heaven’s sake, Gemma. We can’t have pets here! How many times have I talked about this?”
“Babe, you’re the super. I thought you, at least, could bend the rules.”
“I don’t own the building, Gemma,” he said. “And I’d really like to keep my job and this apartment. Gemma, you’re being idiotic, and you know it. You’re giving it back.”
“Her,” she said. Her, like the thing deserved every respect as a human.
Ethan grabbed a pack of smokes from the coffee table, and headed toward the door. “I want it gone by tomorrow,” he said before slamming it behind him. She didn’t sleep at home that night. Or the following night. She came back after that, though. He never knew what she did with it. He was just glad it was gone.
XV. Through Subtext
Gemma’s in her childhood bedroom on her childhood bed, browsing the pictures from her trip again. This is the only thing that seems to bring her comfort. Food isn’t working anymore. Nor are people, not that she’s tried much.
She’s just about to swipe to the next picture when a phone call pops up on the screen. It doesn’t register in time for her brain to send a signal to her finger to retreat. It connects to the screen, swiping. The call is answered. She’s breathing heavily all of a sudden. Ethan probably hears it. It probably sounds creepy, and also gross.
“Gemma?” His faint voice emits from the phone, still at a distance from her face. “Gemma? Are you there?” he says again. She slowly press the speaker button.
“Hi,” she says. Nothing else comes to mind.
“Gemma, hi, um—” He doesn’t know what to say either. “I heard that you’re back.” Mom called him. Gemma’s barely spoken to her since she returned.
“Mom called you?”
“She’s worried about you,” he says. “Still.”
“That woman doesn’t stop worrying.”
“You gave her enough reason.”
“Okay,” she says, rolling her eyes. She tosses the phone a few feet away on the mattress, not open to criticism.
“What’s going on with you? What are you doing now that you’re back?”
“Good question,” she says, recalcitrant. Deep down, she knows she should be softer with him. He’s showing her he cares by reaching out. She ignores those thoughts, furrows her brow further.
“Your soul-searching trip didn’t provide any answers?” he asks.
“Why did you call me, Ethan? What is the point of this?” He pauses for a second. He doesn’t want to scare her off.
“I’m sorry. I thought I should check in. I’m worried about you, too, Gem.”
“Thanks, Ethan, but, you know, I’m not really your problem anymore.”
“I guess,” he says. “You still have some of your stuff over here. Not rushing you or nothing, just letting you know.”
“Okay,” she says. Why are you talking about things right now? she wants to yell at him. Things don’t matter. I’m pregnant! “How’s Kailey,” she says instead. She doesn’t really mean for it to sound accusatory, but she knows it does.
He pauses. He isn’t surprised she knows. He wasn’t really trying to hide it. He’s surprised she brought it up, though. She doesn’t hear it, but a tiny grin appears on his face because she minds. “She’s good. We’re just hanging out, Gem, nothing serious.”
“Cool,” she says, verging on tears now. She can’t stand his voice a minute longer.
“Well, um.” He coughs. “Let me know if you want to get together to talk, or come on around and gather your stuff, but, like I said, take your time.”
XVI. At Her Kitchen Table
Mom’s sitting at the kitchen table at 3AM, unable to sleep. The radio is tuned to her rock’n’roll station. She’s trying to remember being Gemma’s age. Her daughter is upstairs in the bed she slept in for 20 years, but she feels further from her than she ever has.
Mom hears a squeak in the floorboards and looks up to see Gemma coming through the dark living room. The kitchen light paints her beautiful face. Her wavy, golden hair falls over one shoulder. She looks soft and warm like she used to.
“Hey Mom, what are you doing up?” she says plopping down next to her. Mom immediately puts her hand on Gemma’s arm. She’d pull Gemma into her lap if she wasn’t afraid of pushing her further away.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mom says. “I couldn’t sleep that well.” Mom’s eyes reveal the sorrow stemming from Gemma’s silence.
Gemma breaks open then. She tells Mom rapid fire, in her old Gemma way. Mom sneaks a question in here and there, but she’s trying to focus, to follow the timeline, to understand.
Tears are pooling in Gemma’s eyes, and she keeps swiping them away. Until, Ed Sheeran and the plus sign.
Mom’s crying, now, too, and they’re hugging. A small smile flits on her face between the tears and the confusion—a moment allowing herself to consider a grandchild. Oh Gemma, to be able to feel that joy! To be a mother!
For quite some time, all that can be heard in their yellow-walled kitchen are whimpers, and sobs, and sighs over the low thrumming of rock music. The sun has begun bleeding a new day into the kitchen. Mom stops herself from asking Gemma’s plan. Gemma will tell her when she’s ready. She’s glad Gemma has Valerie. That girl has a good head on her shoulders.
“Apple seed,” Mom says.
“Huh?” Gemma asks.
“The baby’s the size of an apple seed, right now.”
Gemma puts her hands to her stomach almost lovingly.
XVII. At His Kitchen Table
It’s early. The morning of the day Gemma’s scheduled to have an abortion. Weirdly, or maybe not weirdly at all, she woke up with the urge to see Ethan. Is this happening? It’s happening.
I’m breathing. The light is growing.
What should she wear? No, she shouldn’t be thinking about that. She shouldn’t be trying to impress him with pretty clothes and make-up. This is not about winning him back. This is about the truth. Plus, he’s seen her at her worst. Plus, she doesn’t look that bad right now, even though it doesn’t matter. She’s still kind of tan from her trip. Having a baby inside her is also physically validating.
Gemma speeds over to their old place. She wants to catch him before he starts work for the day. When she arrives, she sits outside for a minute and looks up to what used to be their window. A light’s on. He’s up and moving around. She needs to do this. She shifts the car into park, slams its door, stomps up the steps to their place, his place. She bangs her fists on the door before she has time to turn around and run away from everything that’s been scaring her since she landed back on American soil.
Ethan comes to the door with a toothbrush in his mouth. His hair is still ruffled in the cute way it gets during a night of him twisting and turning.
“Gemma, hi there,” he says.
She’s bouncing on her heels, gives him a small wave. He’s stunned at her presence, but eventually steps aside, and she walks in. Weird to be let in. The apartment looks the same as when she left. She doesn’t know what she was expecting. A new blanket is draped on the couch.
“What are you doing here?” Ethan asks through mouth foam. He gestures for her to come with him, and she follows him into the bathroom. She watches him spit into the sink. Her razor is still on the edge of the bathtub. He looks up at her with his mouth open under the faucet.
Gemma bounces on her heels more. “So, uh,” she says.
He’s swishing water in his mouth.
“I came here because I wanted to talk a little bit, but I thought it would be better in person because of how our call went the other day, and you know, I thought I might as well come by, and I woke up early this morning. My schedule is really fucked up since I got back.”
He spits out the water, looking at her confused.
“I didn’t realize how real jetlag was before. I always thought people were complaining, didn’t you? Anyway, so I got up early and figured you’d be up and that I could come over and chat. Maybe have some coffee? I don’t know. I guess I could’ve stopped at Starbucks before I came over, but I just didn’t think of it.”
Silence stretches between them as he wipes his mouth, dries his hands. His mind is working hard. “Sure, let’s have a coffee,” he says.
Gemma sat down at the kitchen table with the lace tablecloth she bought on clearance at Target. Ethan’s fussing with the coffee maker. A pile of letters addressed to her sits on the table. Her mind flashes back to the doctor’s office vision. Her heart beats faster. She’s only breathing in; she’s not breathing out. She’s shuffling through the stack of letters, bill after bill, while the pressure in her lungs increases. Breathe in, breathe in, breathe in.
Gemma doesn’t exhale until Ethan sits in front of her, coffee brewing on the counter, a soundtrack to their conversation. She distractedly thinks about how caffeine and pregnancy don’t mix. And then she thinks of her appointment later today and all the research she’s done since making it. This thing about coffee is still a gap in her knowledge. She heard you can have like one cup a day when you’re pregnant, or like, there’s an exact amount of caffeine that’s technically okay, but she doesn’t know what that amount is, or what kind of coffee Ethan buys now that she doesn’t do the grocery shopping, or how much coffee he puts in the machine now that she’s not the one making the coffee anymore.
Ethan’s looking straight at her. When they first started dating, getting his full attention always made her swoon. Now, she’s nervous. She glances around the room. He reaches his hand across the table—a gesture she knows is difficult for him. He’s being a gentleman, showing his native southern charm. She puts a shaking hand in his. He holds on tight, waits.
“Okay, so,” she says. Breathe in. Breathe out. “I want to apologize for everything that happened before I left. And, for leaving.” She’s talking to the space just to the right of his face.
“Thanks,” he says. She refocuses on his eyes. His posture relaxes a little bit. That makes her relax a little bit, too.
“Thanks for coming here and saying that.” She doesn’t really know how to continue, so he helps her. “I don’t think I ever got a real reason out of you. For what happened.”
“I think I needed to escape,” she says. “My life had become this like boring slog. Not because of you or anything; I want to make that clear. I had been wanting to change my job, go back to school. I always said, ‘I’ll do it soon,’ but then soon dragged on for years. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Getting out felt like the only thing to do.”
“Sorry you felt that way, babe—Gem,” he said. “I had no idea that was happening with you. You’ve always been impulsive, but I never thought something like that would happen.”
“I don’t know. It felt like that’s what I would have to do to like reclaim my life, or whatever. I felt like it would change something.”
Well, it has, she thinks.
“Well, it has,” she says.
“In what way?” he asks. He jumps up to get the coffee that’s done brewing. Her hands are in a tangle in her lap. She hears mugs clink.
“You might want to sit down for this,” she says.
Ethan carries the mugs over. She doesn’t touch hers. His shoulders are back at attention. She looks down at the lace tablecloth, tracing the design with her finger, and she just says it.
Ethan stands back up and sits back down and stands back up again. He paces like her. He’s running his hands through his hair. He’s mumbling to himself, darting his eyes around the room. He finally sits back down. Looks at her. She has no words left. Just watches him go through the storm she’s been weathering.
He shakes his head and his eyes look a little watery. He covers his mouth and laughs.
“You’re moving back, then?” Ethan asks.
Her voice is caught in her throat. Words echo in her mind.
Let the point of light at your center expand.
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