"I guess we’ve pinpointed the problem." She felt him ease away from her, and it hurt more than she’d imagined. She’d tried to prepare herself for any reaction, but if he stopped loving her, she couldn’t bear it.
Slowly, his eyes opened. He turned, looked at her through eyes that were dull. "Are you sure?"
"Oh," he said softly, and though he looked dazed and terrified, he was trying to smile, and the attempt pushed some of her despair aside. "What now?" he finally asked in a voice that was thick and tight.
She refused to look at him. She could tell that he was on the verge of tears. She couldn’t see him break. "I don’t know."
"Could you … have … you know?"
"An abortion." She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling as if something inside were tearing away. Tears burned again but didn’t fall. It was the same thought she’d had. So why did it hurt so much to hear him say it? "That’s probably the answer."
"Yeah," he said, too quickly. "I’ll pay for it. And go with you."
She felt as if she were slowly falling underwater. "Okay." Even to her own ears, her voice sounded distant.
LAUREN STARED OUT THE WINDOW AT THE BLUR OF green and gold landscape and tried not to think about where she was going, what she was doing. David was beside her, his hands tight on the steering wheel. They hadn’t spoken in almost an hour. What was there to say now? They were going to
take care of it.
She shivered at the thought, but what choice did she have?
The drive from West End to Vancouver seemed to take forever, and with every passing mile, her bones seemed to tighten. She could have had this done closer to home, but David hadn’t wanted to risk being seen. His family was friendly with too many local doctors.
There, through the filmy glass of the car window, was the clinic. She’d expected picketers out front carrying signs that said terrible things and showed heartbreaking pictures, but the entrance was quiet today, empty. Maybe even protesters didn’t want to be out on such a bleak and freezing day.
Lauren closed her eyes, battling a suddenly rising panic.
David touched her for the first time. His hand was shaking and cold; strangely, his anxiety gave her strength. "Are you okay?"
She loved him for that, for being here and loving her. She would have said so, but her throat was tight. When they parked, the full weight of her decision pressed down on her. She wasn’t taking care of something, she was having an abortion.
For a terrifying moment, she couldn’t make herself move. David came around and opened her door. She clung to his hand.
Together, they walked toward the clinic. One foot in front of the other; that was all she let herself think about.
He opened the door for her.
The waiting room was full of women–girls, mostly, sitting alone, their heads bowed as if in prayer or despair, their knees clamped together. A belated gesture. Some pretended to read magazines; others didn’t pretend that anything could take their minds off why they were here. David was the only boy in the room.
Lauren went to the front desk and checked in, then returned to an empty chair and filled out the paperwork she’d been handed. When she finished, she took the clipboard up to the desk and handed it to the woman, who looked it over.
"You’re seventeen?" she asked, looking up.
Lauren felt a rush of panic. She’d meant to lie about her age, but she’d been too nervous to think clearly. "Almost eighteen. Do I …" She lowered her voice. "Do I need my mom’s permission for the … for this?"
"Not in Washington. I just wanted to make sure it was accurate. You look younger."
She nodded weakly, relieved. "Oh."
"Have a seat. We’ll call you."
Lauren went back to her seat. David sat down beside her. They held hands but didn’t look at each other. Lauren was afraid she’d cry if she did. She read the pam phlet that was on the table, obviously left there by another unfortunate girl.
The procedure, it stated, should take no more than fifteen minutes.
… recovery enough for work within twenty-four to forty-eight hours …
… minimal discomfort …
She closed the pamphlet, set it aside. She might be young, but she knew that what mattered was not the pain or the recovery or the length of the "procedure."
What mattered was this: Could she live with it?
She pressed a hand to her still-flat stomach. There was life inside her.
It was easier not to think about her pregnancy that way, easier to pretend a procedure that lasted fifteen minutes could wash away her problem. But what if it didn’t? What if she mourned this lost baby for the rest of her life? What if she felt forever tarnished by today?
She looked up at David. "Are you sure?"
He paled. "What choice do we have?"
"I don’t know."
A woman walked into the waiting room. Holding a clipboard, she read off some names. "Lauren. Sally. Justine."
David squeezed her hand. "I love you."
Lauren was shaking as she got to her feet. Two other girls also stood. Lauren gave David one last, lingering look, then followed the white-clad nurse down the hallway.
"Justine, exam room two," the woman said, pausing at a closed door.
A frightened-looking teenage girl went inside, closed the door behind her.
"Lauren. Room three," the woman said a few seconds later, opening a door. "Put on that gown and cap."
This time Lauren was the frightened-looking girl who walked into the room. As she disrobed and redressed in the white cotton gown and paper cap, she couldn’t help noticing the irony: cap and gown. As a senior, this was hardly the way she’d imagined it. She sat on the edge of the table.
Bright silver cabinets and countertops made her wince; they were too bright beneath the glare of an overhead light.
The door opened. An elderly man walked in, wearing a cap and a loosened mask that flapped against his throat as he moved. He looked tired, as worn down as an old pencil. "Hello," he said, looking down at her chart. "Lauren. Go ahead and put your feet in the stirrups and lie back. Get comfortable."
Another person came in. "Hello, Lauren. I’m Martha. I’ll be assisting the doctor." She patted Lauren’s hand.
Lauren felt the sting of tears in her eyes; they blurred her vision.
"It’ll all be over in a few minutes," the nurse said.
A few minutes.
And she knew.
She sat upright. "I can’t do it," she said, feeling the tears roll down her cheeks. "I can’t live with it."
The doctor sighed heavily. His sad, downward-tilted eyes told her how often he’d seen this moment played out. "Are you sure?" He consulted her chart. "Your window for having the procedure–"
"Abortion," Lauren said, saying the word out loud for the first time. It seemed to cut her tongue with its sharp edges.
"Yes," he said. "The abortion can’t happen after–"
"I know." For the first time in days, she was certain of something, and the sureness calmed her. "I won’t change my mind." She pulled off the cap.
"Okay. Good luck to you," he said, then left the room.
"Planned Parenthood can help with adoption … if that’s what you’re interested in," the nurse said. Not waiting for an answer, she, too, left the room.
Lauren sat there, alone now. Her emotions were all tangled up. She felt good about her decision. It was the only thing she could have lived with. She believed absolutely in a woman’s right to choose. But this was her choice.
She slid off the table and began to undress.
She’d done the right thing for her. She had. She knew it in her bones.
But what would David say?
HOURS LATER, LAUREN SAT BESIDE DAVID ON THE cream-colored sofa in his family’s media room. Upstairs, perhaps, ordinary life was going on; down here, it was eerily quiet. She was holding his hand so tightly her fingers felt numb. She couldn’t seem to stop crying.
"We get married, I guess," he said in a flat voice.
It hurt her as much as anything had, hearing him sound so defeated. She turned to him then, gathered him into her arms. She felt his tears on her throat; each one scalded her. She drew back a little, just enough to see him. He looked … broken. He was trying so hard to be grown-up, but his eyes betrayed his youth. They were wide with fear; his mouth was trembling. She touched his damp cheek. "Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean–"
David yanked away from her. "Mom!"
Mrs. Haynes stood in the doorway, dressed in an impeccable black suit with a snowy blouse. She held a pizza box out in front of her. "Your dad called me. He thought you guys might like a pizza," she said dully, staring at David. Then she started to cry.
LAUREN HAD THOUGHT SHE COULDN’T FEEL ANY worse. That evening, sitting in an elegant white chair in the living room, beside a fire that should have warmed her, she realized how wrong she’d been. Seeing Mrs. Haynes cry was almost unbearable. David’s reaction to his mother’s tears was worse. Through all of it–the yelling, the arguing, the talking, the weeping– Lauren tried to say as little as possible.
It felt as if it were all her fault.
In her head, she knew that wasn’t true. It had taken both of them to make this baby, but how many times had Mom told Lauren to keep condoms in her purse? No man thinks straight with a hard-on, she’d said more than once, and it’s you who’ll get knocked up. It had been the sum total of her advice on sex. Lauren should have listened.
"I have contacts in Los Angeles and San Francisco," Mr. Haynes said, running a hand through his ruined hair. "Excellent doctors. And discreet. No one would ever have to know."
They’d been on this subject for at least ten minutes. After a lot of chest pounding and how-could-youhave-been-so-careless, they’d finally come around to the superstar of questions. What now?
"She tried," David said.
"In Vancouver," Lauren said. She could hardly hear herself.
Mrs. Haynes was staring at her. Slowly, slowly, she sat down. It was more of a crumpling, really. "We’re Catholic," she said.
Lauren was grateful for even that small bit. "Yes," she answered. "And … there was more than that." She didn’t want to say the word aloud–baby or life–but it was there anyway, as much a presence as the furniture or the music coming from another room.
"I asked Lauren to marry me," David said.
She could see how hard he was trying to be strong and she loved him for it; she also saw how close he was to breaking and she hated herself for that. He was realizing all of it now, piece by piece, the things he would have to give up. How could love demand so many sacrifices and survive?
"You’re too young to get married, for God’s sake. Tell them, Anita."
"We’re too young to have a baby, too," David said. That sent everyone into silence again.
"There’s adoption," Mrs. Haynes said.
David looked up. "That’s right, Lauren. There are people who would love this baby."
The hope in his voice was her undoing. Tears stung her eyes. She wanted to disagree, to say that she could love this baby. Her baby. Their baby. But her voice had gone missing.
"I’ll call Bill Talbot," Mr. Haynes said. "He’s sure to give me a good contact. We’ll find a couple who would provide a good home."