I never believed my teenage life to be anything extraordinary until Greg came along. And I didn't mean that it was because he was a popular guy in school and gave me upstanding social status; I meant it because once Greg caught sight of me, so did drama. I was an average girl at school. Allison and I didn't hang out with anyone else at school, and when I wasn't at school I was usually working at Bailey's.
The first week of dating Greg was so awkward. I knew who he was because we had a couple classes together and he was always captain of teams that kids with money involve themselves in. People stared at us when Greg walked me to class, or when he sat with me and Allison during lunch (I refused to eat lunch with his friends). But after the initial week, the conversations about us dropped when people realized that Greg really liked me.
Greg and I resolved that it wasn't worth letting the school know I was pregnant. We were graduating in a couple weeks and wouldn't have to see anyone after that. We didn't have to answer to anyone. I was barely showing, and always wore loose shirts anyway, so no one noticed anything different. It was one thing to deal with the fact that I'm lying about one important factor about this baby, but it's another thing to deal with the stares and gossip of classmates who don't matter.
I was glad to have school separated from the whole pregnancy thing, because despite the growing popularity of teenage pregnancy I wasn't partial to the drama.
Well, it wasn't like that hope would stay stable.
And of course, all my pregnancy downfalls had to happen at work.
It was busy Tuesday afternoon at work, and though I was working the cash register I kept running around locating materials for customers. Kale and Norman were working on shelving books, so I barely had time to talk to either of them. After talking to Allison, I felt closer to telling Kale, but the fear still held me back. The thought had my heart thrumming and my nerves tangling together. Keeping busy helped keep my mind off things too much.
I just didn't know how long I was going to keep this up. Anxiety couldn't be good for a baby.
The afternoon rush quieted down and I was able to sit for longer than ten minutes. Norman came up to me holding books and slapped a folded piece of paper onto the counter.
I glanced down at it and asked, "What's that?"
Norman shrugged. "D asked me to give you his number, said just in case you needed to talk to him." His eyes narrowed into an accusatory glare. "The fuck does that mean, Lucy?"
The paper had D's name and number scribbled on it in Norman's slanted handwriting. I slid it into my purse.
"I don't know," I replied, looking at Norman pointedly. I knew that D was concerned about me, and it was a nice gesture. "He's not trying to talk to me or anything. I saw him and Isaac at the mall the other day."
Norman stared at me for a long time before acceding with a nod. "Well good thing I know D to trust him with you."
I smiled at Norman and he looked pleased with the fact for a moment before pointing the corner of a book at me. "But that does not mean you can try to be friends with some of the people Kale and I hang out with."
I rolled my eyes. "Norman, I'm not your little sister."
He cuffed my lightly on the back of my head and I punched his arm in return. "Yeah, you pretty much are, and I can't have some of the punks I know try to wheedle you into their lifestyle."
"Why, do they do drugs and get into jail every weekend? D was sent to jail," I argued. It was childish the way I acted, but Norman didn't normally lay on the whole concern act for me.
"You don't know why D was in jail Luce, and yes some of those people I'm warning you about aren't the most honest citizens. I won't disclose what exactly they do because most of them are not worth mentioning. Which is why you can't be near them. The fact that you're a high school student and have no tattoos or piercings in weird places is like being a sacrificial virgin for them." I made a face. "They would love nothing more than to corrupt your innocence and turn you into . . ."
"Them?" I supplied.
"I'm not that innocent, Norman."
His expression went soft for a few seconds before he said, "I know you're mature, Lucy. But I don't want you being someone I know you're not. You're above that, and if I can help it I'll make sure you stay that way."
It might have had something to do with my hormones, or it might have had something to do with the gentleness of Norman's words and the seriousness of his expression, but I reached over the counter and hugged him as tightly as I could. Norman's wild hair poked my cheek and forehead, but his embrace was strong and warm and I knew that he would do as much as he could to protect me.
"Thank you," I said into his shirt, where my face was pressed against. I knew that if he continued being so nice, I probably would have started crying. I trusted Norman, and though he had a really weird way of showing that he liked someone, it was there.
"Contrary to the belief, I do care about you, Luce."
I pulled away and smacked his shoulder lightly. "I know you do, dimwit. It's just really nice to hear you say that. And I promise I won't hang out with your scary friends."
Norman patted my head and laughed at my scowl. "Good girl."
Kale took that moment to enter the room with amusement flicking across his face at the sight of Norman and me. "Norman, why are you treating Lucy like a pet?"
"Because sometimes she looks like a hamster when she chews her food."
I smacked Norman harder this time, and on his arm. He yelped and pulled his arm away from me. "Ow, hey! My tattoo is still healing!"
"I know, you ass. Don't make me regret that hug."
"Geez, sorry." He walked away from the counter, nursing his wounded arm in an exaggerated motion.
Kale came up and leaned against the counter. He smiled brightly at me. "You've been here for nearly three hours and I've barely seen you."
I couldn't help but grin back at him. "I'm a busy bee."
Kale looked down at the counter, fidgeting with a stack of fliers. "Hey, Lucy, are you busy after work?"
His nervousness had me instantly worried, but I cheerfully replied, "No. What's up?"
"Did you want to head over to Bean There after work? My treat. I feel like we haven't talked in a while." When things had not been ridiculously weird between us and before I had a boyfriend, Kale and I would walk over to the coffeshop a few stores down and hang out after work.
He looked up and gave me a small, shy smile. He was nervous about talking to me. Allison's question of Kale's avoidance glared in my mind and I had a good feeling that Kale wanted to confront me about it the big huge neglected issue floating between us. The more I thought about it with Kale in front of me, the more I started to wonder why exactly he didn't. He obviously felt fine not talking about it for the past two months, so why bring it up now?
But I wasn't ready for that conversation. As much as I know it would be the right thing to do, I'd freak out and say stupid things that would have him hating me forever.
My hesitation was long enough to give Kale an answer and he shook his head. "It's fine if you don't want to. I know you've been busy with school and Greg, so I understa—"
"No!" I startled us both with my exclamation. I blushed and nodded at him. "Kale, I'd love to go with you. Having a boyfriend shouldn't stop me from hanging out with you, and school's not an excuse for me anymore." Since I already started digging my hole, I added, "I've missed talking to you."
Kale's smile softened and his green eyes held more secrets that I had a feeling he'd share with me tonight. "Are you sure? You really don't have to."
I nodded again and gave him a smile. "I want to."
"Great! That's awesome." He ran a hand through his hair in a gesture I've learned to be nervousness and I swore Kale couldn't have been cuter at that moment. "Okay, well I have books to shelve. I'll talk to you later, Luce."
He left and went back towards the stockroom, leaving me with my rampant thoughts. What in the hell did I just agree to? With us alone and no opportunities for distractions or interruptions, I was prone to being honest with Kale. His gentle demeanor always had this quality of bringing out my candidness and I was afraid of what that'd do to my reserve. Without Allison to be my vocal conscience, I was getting farther away from being ready to tell him, yet agreeing to being alone with him was getting me closer to Kale finding out the truth.
As much as I wanted to cancel, Kale looked as if he really missed hanging out with me. I didn't want to take that smile off his face. I would just have to try to keep my mouth shut to certain topics.
The ringing of the door prevented me from thinking too much. I looked over to greet the customer when I saw Bailey's grandson Peter walk in. He had been restricted from working a lot during exam time, so he hadn't been working for a couple weeks now. I didn't mind. He was still a prick and even though I stopped being so judgmental against Greg, I was still very judgmental against the people he hung out with. Peter was a grade below us, but he hung around Greg's social circle. Around the edges, I should specify. He wasn't all that important.
I figured he came in to see his grandmother, because he rarely read anything outside of the newspaper. I think I saw him reading a self-help book at work that I swore I saw Greg carry.
He came up to the counter and in my polite worker etiquette I said, "Hey Peter."
Kale came back out with Norman and they nodded over at Peter. "Hey, man. You come back to work?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't start until summer break."
"You come to see Bailey?" I asked.
"Yeah, have some forms from my mom. Is she in the back?"
"She went out for a little bit," Norman called from of the aisles.
"Okay. I'll wait." Instead of walking over to one of the couches, or to the back, Peter stayed next to the counter. He eyed me with peculiar calculation and I frowned when his eyes strayed down to my torso.
"Did you need something?"
"You're the Lucy dating Greg, right? I've seen you guys walk together around school."
"Yes, and what significance does that have to you?"
Peter's eyes widened and he smiled like he found a stupid prize in those Crackerjack boxes. "Greg Tillman. You date Greg Tillman?"
"There's only one Greg Tillman at school."
"Holy shit!" Peter cried out. "Then you're the Lucy he knocked up!"
Peter all but screamed that statement, and I wasn't sure if there were any customers around to hear. But when I heard books drop in one of the aisles, I knew that Kale and Norman definitely heard.
Everything was stopping and going at once for me. I couldn't focus on any of the reactions I should have to Peter's statement. "What—d—did Greg tell you that?" Asshole! Did Greg seriously want to fuck up his reputation?
Peter was rattling on, but I only caught him saying, "I heard Greg say that you guys weren't going to prom this weekend because you probably wouldn't fit into any dress without the being obvious." He eyed my stomach again. "It doesn't even look that big. How far along are you?"
I shakily stood from the chair. In my peripheral I saw Norman and Kale walk towards us and everything started crashing down.
Norman threw a book (a children's paperback—he didn't want Bailey firing him over assault charges) at Peter's back. "You little clone of a douchebag! How the fuck do you have the right making shit up about Lucy?" Peter was surprised at the book being thrown at him, but even more at Norman's anger.
"I didn't make it up! Greg told all the guys! Ask the entire lacrosse team."
That didn't help calm Norman down. "That motherfucker! I'm going to take your pansy-ass lacrosse sticks and shove them up his ass next time I see him." He pointed at Peter. "Don't you have any respect for Lucy at all?"
Peter's eyes widened as he held up his hands. "I just wanted to know if it was true!"
Three pairs of eyes swung in my direction (If I was more attentive, only two did—Kale's eyes never strayed from me).
"Lucy?" I wasn't sure who called my name.
I felt too hot and too cold at the same time, and there was a loud roaring in my ears. My face felt hot against my icy hands. I might've been going into shock, but I felt my head nod as tears sprung forward.
"Holy shit." I still wasn't sure who was speaking, but it didn't matter. They knew.
It was beyond humiliating, standing there and crying. I didn't have an explanation for them. The whole situation has now been blown out of proportion and was now out of my hands.
After a minute of standing there a sob escaped my constricted throat and not five seconds later someone's arms encircled me.
"Lucy. Lucy, don't cry." It was Norman, and his voice dropped about ten notches down from the angry tone he used to yell at Peter.
My hands haven't left my face if only for the scrap of vanity I had left to not want these guys seeing me all blotchy and red. As Norman's arms pulled me in, I cried openly and decided to screw vanity in favor of comfort. He was talking to calm me down, but I wasn't listening.
I didn't really know what was going on at the moment, but I heard more voices and then Bailey took over and pulled me in her arms.
"Lucy, sweetheart, what's wrong?"
Bailey would have been the first person I told whenever I decided to tell. Now she's the last, and she finds out while I'm crying on her shoulder. And I couldn't even tell her. I was too busy sobbing like a little whiny girl that she had to look at Norman.
"Lucy . . . Lucy's pregnant."
Bailey gasped but she tightened her arms around me, as if trying to protect what's left of my innocence. "Lucy. Oh, honey, is this true?" I nodded.
"Whose . . ."
"Greg's. It's Greg's," I answered through my tears.
"Sweetheart, go to the break room. Kale, can you take her?"
Kale was the last person I wanted to be around, but my legs were ready to give way and had they the power to move, I would have bolted out of that store and far away from the guy who gently took me in his arms and started steering me towards the back.
Kale didn't say anything as he brought me to the break room. I was still crying and swiped my hand over my eyes in an attempt to remove tears and snot. Without saying anything he set me down at the table and then started making tea. I looked at his back, trying to find any meaning in the tension of his shoulders. He didn't look at me, and I feared the worst had happened. Kale was starting to develop a hatred towards me because besides my siblings and best friend, he was the only person who could read me. He could see through my lie.
My hands shook, and they were freezing when I pressed them against my face. My heart pounded and I realized I was panicking.
Kale knew. How dumb could I be to try to lie to him about Greg being the father? This wasn't the plan. He wasn't supposed to find out like this.
I didn't realize my eyes were closed, and when I opened them Kale was crouched in front of me. He had set the mug on the table and was looking at me with his eyes so green. The impact of his expression hit me so hard I didn't know I started crying again until his eyes shifted into concern as he brought his hand up to my shoulder.
"It's okay Lucy. You're okay."
I shook my head furiously. "It's not," I garbled out.
His palm was warm against my cheek when he moved it off my shoulder and his thumb caught the tears. "I know it's hard for you, but you don't have to be so scared. We're here for you. I'm here for you." His thumb skimmed lightly over my cheekbone and I hated myself for the intimacy between us at such a wrong time.
"You hate me!"
He looked surprised for a couple of seconds before he shook his head and sighed. "What would make me hate you? Lucy, I could never hate you. I hate Greg, but not you. Never you."
My entire world spun. Kale didn't hate me. But he believed Greg was the father and he hated Greg. Where did that leave me?
"Kale, I don't know what to do."
He pulled a chair over and sat down, scooting forward so our knees almost touched. Kale looked down and outlined the koi tattoo on his arm for a while before replying, "What about Greg?" With Kale's admittance to hating my boyfriend, I watched his expression carefully.
"I told him to go to Cornell. He's been supportive. He wants to be supportive throughout the baby's life, but I don't want to put a burden on him. It wouldn't be fair to do that to him. And honestly? He's not ready to be a father at eighteen." I didn't lie.
"You need to learn to be selfish," Kale said. I blinked at him. "You think too much about others. You deserve to be selfish with some things in your life, Lucy. And demanding that Greg be a father to this baby is something you shouldn't be afraid to ask for."
It didn't work out that way. My selfishness would have Kale happy that I'm pregnant with his baby. How can I say I deserve that much when I'd be forcing him?
I took a deep breath. "I don't want to hurt anybody."
"Lucy." His voice demanded my attention. "The only person you'll hurt is yourself if you don't ask for the things you want."
"I don't want to ruin anyone's life!"
"A baby isn't going to ruin a life."
I gave Kale a look. "You don't have a baby to know that."
He shook his head. "No, but if I did I wouldn't be complaining about how my life is over."
I realized how childish I was sounding and showing this to Kale made me cringe. "I'm not saying my life is ruined. I'm not trying to whine about having a baby, because I know it won't ruin my life." It was Kale's life that would change, and even though he claims he wouldn't complain, I know it wouldn't be the first thing on his wish list. "It's just . . . how do you know? It's not like you want a baby right now."
Kale smiled softly. "Lucy, sometimes things happen and people get what they're not prepared for. It's called life. It's not the things that hit us that ruin our lives; it's the way we deal with them. Say I found out I'm going to be a father now. I wouldn't expect to be one, but I'd sure as hell do my damnedest to be the best one I could be for that baby. Because that's the right thing to do."
With the way Kale looked at me I was certain he was trying to send the message across that I should tell him it's his, unless it was my ill-timed guilt trying to lasso me into doing the right thing. I looked away from him and wiped my puffy eyes, sniffling and trying to figure out what exactly was happening.
I leaned forward and pressed my face into my hands. With muffled words I said, "I don't know how to raise a baby. I don't know how to be pregnant. I don't know how to ask people to do things I now they don't want. I don't know what this will mean." I looked up at Kale. "Kale, I don't know. Everything's a mess."
"Hey," he interjected, taking one of my hands. "You'll know, Luce. When the time comes you'll know exactly what to do."
"What if I never make the right choice?"
His hand was warm against the one he squeezed as he said, "Lucy, look at me." I dragged my eyes back to him. "You will. You're a good person."
Kale believed in me so much. I didn't know what I did to make him keep his faith in me; if he only knew I'm sure his faith would disintegrate in an instant.
"Why don't you want Greg to be a father? It's his baby, he needs to be there for his child," Kale brought up, drawing me from self-misery into self-lament at my desperate attempts at evasion.
I thought for a bit before I gave Kale my answer. "I don't love Greg. I never even planned on being in a serious relationship with him. But . . . things happened and I know he never wanted this on him. I don't need him here. He wants to help, he does, but I can't put him through that. He has a whole life to live in college."
Kale frowned. "And you think you don't? Lucy, a child needs a father, and if Greg is willing to step up to the plate and be one, then let him. It's not up to you to decide that Greg will or won't be a father. That's his decision. That's a father's decision."
"He's not—" I stopped myself from saying too much. "He wouldn't be the father I know this baby deserves."
"How do you know?"
"Because, things are a lot more complicated than you think, Kale. A baby changes everything."
"And not having a father around does as well," he countered. I knew Kale's father walking out on his family made him so diligent about the importance of family, and I knew that should have translated into me giving him that opportunity, but I was too selfish. I didn't want to break whatever we had despite knowing I already did.
Instead, I asked in reply, "Kale, why is this so important to you?"
His gaze slackened and the breath he blew out was as heavy as his next words. "You're important to me, Lucy. And eventually, so will this baby. I just hate knowing that Greg's not even fighting for this. Leaving you alone."
"But it was my decision! He can't fight if he knows I'll refuse."
He looked at me for a long time. "Why do you want to do this alone?"
I looked down at the hand he still held in his. "It's easier," I said.
"Lucy. It's never easier."
The door opened then and Bailey came in looking flustered and concerned, probably from yelling at her blabbermouth grandson. Kale let go of my hand and scooted away as Bailey approached us. She smoothed my hair back and offered, "Sweetheart, do you want to take the rest of the day off? I know this must be tough for you, especially with the way things happened earlier."
I nodded and she pulled me into a hug.
"You're going to be just fine. You have everyone here if you need anything, you got that?"
I pulled away and smiled at the woman who's treated me so warmly since the first day I met her years ago when I started coming in to buy books. "Thank you. You're disappointed in me, aren't you?"
"Nonsense, Lucy. I know the person you are, and I know you'll do an excellent job being a mother," she said. Her kindness was more than I could ever ask for. "Now, go home and rest up."
She left the room and I started gathering up my purse and sweater. Kale watched by the sink, and when I looked at him, he smiled softly. "Call me if you need anything. You know I'll always be here."
"I'm sorry we can't go out now," I said lamely. Of all things I should be apologizing to Kale for, I chose to apologize for tonight.
Kale shook his head and pushed off the counter towards me. He pulled me into a hug. "Don't even worry about that."
I really must have been a masochist, wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my cheek into his shirt. I would eventually tell Kale, just not at the moment. It was like one of those things where you know the worst is going to come sooner or later, so you try to make the most out of the present.
"Thank you. For everything."
"That's what friends are for, right?" My heart seized at 'friends.'
He let me go and I wiped my eyes once more before exiting the break room. When I made it back to the front, Norman was manning the cash register. He looked over at me beyond his customer and beckoned with his eyes for me to wait.
I set my things down on a nearby chair and pulled on my sweater. Peter approached me looking extremely guilty. "Hey, Lucy. I'm so sorry for bringing up your . . . you know." He quickly glanced at my stomach. "I thought . . . well, I assumed that you told people already since Greg did, so . . . yeah. Sorry. I really am."
I couldn't find it in myself to completely get over this—he did in fact divulge news I was carefully planning on delivering, news that only I should tell my coworkers and friends—but I couldn't hate him. "It's okay. Can't really change the fact."
He nodded and stood there for a couple seconds longer. It was extremely awkward. "Sorry again. Oh, and congratulations," he said hastily before turning and walking towards Bailey's office. I had a feeling she guilted him into apologizing to me.
Norman finished with his customer and came over after Peter left, ruffling my hair and looking me over. "You okay?"
Judging by the way he reacted towards Peter, I was worried what he might have done to Greg. "Are you?" I asked in return.
Norman rolled his eyes. "I can't believe that asshole knocked you up, Luce. But . . . I know that baby's going to get your genes. The awesome genes."
I laughed. Leave it to Norman to brighten me up at my lowest. "I hope. If anything, I worry about the influence you're going to have on my baby."
"I'll be an awesome influence." He cleared his throat and looked serious again. "Is this what's been bothering you for the past couple weeks? You've been looking really distracted lately."
I sighed, not surprised that Norman would catch it. "You noticed?"
"Luce, how long have you known?"
"Only around 3 weeks. I'm not even two months along."
"Yes, he is the father," I interrupted.
Norman gave me a weird look before finishing, "is going to do the right thing and stick around?" He kept looking at me like he was trying to figure me out, as if he knew I was hiding something.
"Oh. Um well," I started and Norman's look quickly shifted into a hard glare.
"Don't tell me he's not going to be a father, Lucy."
"Norman, it's complicated!"
"Complicated, my ass! He got you pregnant, it's his responsibility to help you!" he countered.
"And he is." I loved Norman for his concern, but his insistent hate towards Greg started to annoy me. "Norman, I know you're concerned about me and the baby, but this decision is between me and Greg. I know you don't like him, and I know the fact that I'm telling him to go to Cornell doesn't help, but please. Let me handle my own life."
He stared at me for a long while before he conceded with a sigh. "You know I'm looking out for you, right? We already went through the whole you're-like-my-sister-so-it's-my-older-brother-slash-friend-duty-to-protect-you thing earlier, and I'd like to keep the sap sesh to its daily minimum. Though, I suppose today's events can make up for about a month's worth of sap."
I laughed. "I know. And I really appreciate it."
"And you know I won't hesitate to tell you if you're being stupid, right?"
"You're going to tell me I'm stupid?"
"Not you. But I don't want you doing something you're going to regret. You're going to have to start making decisions that are ultimately the best for your baby."
If only he knew. I wanted to tell Norman the entire truth, but there was no way he would have kept it from Kale.
"I know." I sighed deeply and Norman must have noticed my exhaustion, because his expression immediately slacked and he pulled me into another hug, kissing me soundly on my head. "It's just hard, trying to make so many right choices when you're so afraid of the consequences."
"It's natural to be scared, Luce. The best things in life are scary."
"Norman, you don't think I'm a slut now, do you?"
Norman pulled a face. "You see the girls I know, and you'll know you most definitely aren't. Why, are people calling you a slut at school?"
"No, I just thought that since teenage pregnancy is a taboo in our society I have that stamped all over my forehead," I said.
He lightly flicked his fingers on my aforementioned forehead in a (caring, I assume since he always defends his violent acts toward me as such) gesture and replied, "Well stamp this on your forehead: you are not a slut, nor will you ever become one. So stop asking people. I know you already have."
With his I-know-the-kind-of-person-you-are patented stare, my lips twitched into a smile. "Okay, fine. A girl needs confirmation sometimes." A customer approached the counter so I nudged Norman back into that direction. "Go back to work."
Norman ruffled my hair once more to appease some quota for his day and waved me off with, "See ya, non-whore. You have my number if you need anything."
Exiting the store I breathed in deeply albeit a little shakily because hell, my world was still spinning.