Wherever I go, whispers follow. I thought I'd gotten used to being kind of famous, to people talking about me and knowing my name on sight. This isn't like that. I know that when people whisper now, there is judgment in their minds and in their words. I am gossip again.
The whole school doesn't know yet, but it won't be long. Rumours catch around here like wildfire in a dry forest, and since my admission in the courtroom, word has gotten around. I can't count how many times the words, "Did you hear she's pregnant?" have followed me through crowded hallways like a tail.
I get out of my car today with my backpack, not full of textbooks, but with papers and pamphlets and bottles of prenatal vitamins.
Kieran is waiting for me on the stairs up to campus. As I approach him, he stands and takes my bag from my shoulders.
"You know you don't have to do that, right?" I ask, looking up at him.
He shrugs. "I know. How was your appointment?" He throws the backpack over his shoulder, and we walk toward the collection of buildings.
"She did a bunch of tests, decided I'm not lying – I'm actually pregnant." Kieran snorts at this. "Then she gave me a bunch of lists and brochures. No alcohol. Duh. Not too much caffeine… All this stuff I shouldn't eat."
"No coffee? How will you ever survive?"
"I'll live. It's just restricted. It's only 'til June, anyways. I'm due on the 8th." I gnaw on the inside of my lip for a moment. "She asked if the father would be coming to any of my appointments."
He grimaces. "Awkward."
"Yeah, tell me about it. Clearly, she didn't get the memo. You should've seen the look on her face, though, when I told her the father was in jail and I hoped I never saw him again."
Kieran stops mid-step and stares at me in mock horror. "You didn't."
I giggle. "Guilty."
We climb the stairs up to my room.
"You look exhausted," Kieran notes. "Want me to bring your dinner up?"
His bringing it up makes me realise just how tired I am. Suddenly, his suggestion is sounding like a brilliant idea. "That would be amazing. Thanks, Kieran."
He excuses himself, and I flop down across my bed. This seems like a nice place to rest for a few minutes, I think. I close my eyes.
I dream about Kieran for the first time. It's nothing special. In the dream, we just sit by the pond. He smiles at me, and rests his head atop mine. When I wake up, Kieran is sitting beside me. He's leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. I shift and grumble quietly. His eyes open and find mine.
"How long have I been asleep?" I ask.
He checks his watch. "About an hour and half."
I sit up and rub my eyes. "Why'd you let me sleep so long?"
"Reason one: you're exhausted, clearly, and need the sleep. Also, reason two: you looked so peaceful that I couldn't bear to wake you up. No nightmares?"
"No. Good dreams, actually."
I scoot over, pull my legs in to my chest, and curl up into him, my head easily finding the spot on his shoulder that seems like it was built with me in mind.
"Your dinner is in the fridge, by the way," he adds. "Shepherd's pie okay?"
"Sounds delicious," I answer, but don't move. I don't want to.
"Also, I was thinking about this while you were asleep – I'll come to your appointments. If you want me there, that is."
I smile, even though he can't see it. "Okay."
I let out a deep breath and stare at the office door. I've been called here, and though they didn't tell me what for, I can make a pretty good guess. My parents have come. It won't be long before this gets ugly. I'm glad it's in the middle of the school day and Kieran is in class, so he doesn't have to witness it.
I let myself in.
"Caralyn," the secretary says, getting up.
"My parents are here, right?" I try to sound bored.
"Yes, Headmaster Montoya says -,"
"Tell him that if they're here to talk to me, I hope he found somewhere private. I wouldn't be surprised if this gets loud."
She stares at me, clearly feeling awkward, but I don't care. I know what this meeting will entail and I just want to get it over with, and the sooner I do, the better. She shuffles away, and then comes back and motions me back. I follow her to a boardroom at the back of the office.
Both of my parents are inside. My mother, in a skirt suit, sits in a plush office chair, her designer jacket on the back and purse on the table. She looks like a typical middle-aged rich woman, with her dark eye makeup and lipstick a shade too red for her skin tone. She has my shade of blonde hair. It is the only thing that makes me look remotely like her daughter.
My father stands behind her, in an expensive-looking suit, hands clasped behind his back. He is turned away from me, staring out the window over the grounds. Sometimes it's easy to forget how much money they've funnelled into the school, but now I'm all too aware.
He turns to me. His severe facial features are all the more striking when he is angry. "Good afternoon, Caralyn," he says. He sounds like a lawyer. To a stranger, it would sound like I was a client. In his mind, I might as well be, and today, we are working out a deal.
"Martin." I nod stiffly. "Let's get this over with, shall we? I should be in class."
"Well, you know why we've come."
"Yes. I do. And you should know what my answer is going to be."
"Caralyn, let's discuss this for a moment. This needs to be taken care of. Immediately."
"We discussed it on the phone already," I answer coldly.
"Caralyn-," my mother starts in.
"You stay out of this, Mother. You hired a surrogate; you have no clue what it's like. You will never know the feeling that comes with this, the attachment. I love it, okay?"
"It's what's best for you."
"No." I set my jaw. "I know my rights. You can't force me to. So, whether you like it or not, the answer is still no." Adrenaline pumps through my heart, making my chest feel light and fluttery. I keep my breaths even, to try not to show them how angry I am.
My father sighs. "Then you leave us no choice but to disable your education savings account."
I almost laugh. "You think that worries me?" I ask. "Do you have any clue how many universities want me already? How many full ride scholarships I've already been offered for when I get out of here? I'll bet almost all of them would maintain those if I called them up right now, just because of who I am."
"Then we'll cut off your money now."
So that's how this is going to go. "Really? You're going to blackmail me into an abortion?"
"If that's what it takes." What should scare me is that he's being truthful. He won't ever say something like this where it could create a scandal, only in private. But he's not afraid to be unorthodox to get what he wants, and right now, he wants his status cleaned up. And I'm the thing standing in between.
I stare at him defiantly, thinking quickly. I need time to come up with a counter-plan. "Give me the night to consider your offer. We'll reconvene tomorrow. Deal?"
I can tell he's unhappy that he's going to have to come back for another meeting. But if he's going to try to play this game with me, we're going to play it by my rules. The trick to dealing with my father lies in a series of carefully played mind-games. I won't let him get his way on this, and this is the only way to make sure of it.
He extends a hand. "Deal. I trust you'll come around."
I take his outstretched hand and return the handshake with a firm grasp, hoping to convey that I'm not afraid of him. "We'll see."
Caralyn lies in her bed and stares thoughtfully at the ceiling. Like I have almost every night, I turn off the light and slide under the covers beside her. I prop myself up on my elbow on a pillow.
"You've been awfully quiet today," I comment, trying to sound absent. "What's up?"
She frowns. Is she considering whether to tell me? If she is, she decides to. "My parents were here today."
That can't be good. "How'd that go?"
"They're trying to blackmail me into getting rid of the baby. I'm causing a scandal for them, I guess."
They're… what? I can hardly contain my outrage. My promise to Caralyn and to myself to support her has gone from just a promise to a vow for me. This disgusts me beyond words. "You're not going to, are you?" I choke out.
"No, of course not. But they're threatening to cut all of my funding. With a baby, there's no way I can get a job to support both of us and still have time for school. I need to figure out what I can do to make them let me keep it."
I'd offer to support her, but she's right, and with my meager part-time job, I wouldn't be able to make enough to do that, either. It's enough to support myself, but that's about it. But she could do something about it. "I have an idea."
"Play their game. They're playing dirty, right? There's no way you're going to beat them if you're playing it clean. You've got to match them. Blackmail them back. Give them no other option but to pay what you need. They see you as an excuse for status? Take them down."
Caralyn looks at me – clearly, the proverbial light bulb has switched on in her head - and continues my thought process. "They are kind of famous. I'll bet there are a few tabloids that would love a story like this. You're brilliant, Kieran."
For a second, I think she's going to kiss me, and my heart leaps, but then she puts her head on my chest, and I know that this is where our standard sleeping arrangement will take over. I surprise myself with how disappointed I am.
Kieran comes to collect me five minutes before the end of class. The school has given me special permissions to leave early and arrive late for class so that I have time to get my books separately from my locker. This is part of the doctor's orders: I'm not supposed to be carrying anything heavy, including an over-laden bag of textbooks. I've insisted to the school that Kieran be allowed to help me. This time, though, I'll be heading to the office for my meeting with my parents.
The bell rings as we approach my locker, and students swarm the hall around us. Lockers clang open, chatter is prevalent, and I tune into a conversation two lockers down from me. A girl is complaining to her friend. He parents have dropped her allowance to five-hundred a week. I am aghast that, to them, this is a crisis, and I can't keep myself from blurting out, "Aw, shut up."
She turns to me. "Excuse me?"
I close the lock more forcefully than I intended to. "You heard me. Shut. The fuck. Up. No one cares about your God damn allowance but you. Do you have any idea how many people have it worse?"
"Oh, yeah, because Miss Perfect really gets it. Do us all a favour and go back to your perfect life, okay? Stop sticking your nose in things you don't understand."
That sets me off. I go after her. She backs into the bank of lockers, and when she can go no further, I take another step and get up in her face. Her pupils dilate. Her lip trembles ever so slightly. She blinks at me.
"You want to talk about what's unfair? How's this for unfair? Your parents hand you because they wanted a child, right?" She stares at me, then nods once. "Your parents loved you, and thought themselves blessed when you got in here. They spoil you with a five hundred dollar allowance because they love you.
"I was genetically engineered, and I was carried by a surrogate mother. My parents wanted me to make them look good. That's why they made me 'perfect'," I air quote the word. "I'm in this school because they told me I wanted to be in this school. I play sports and instruments because they wanted me to, but they've never been to a game, or a concert. My nanny did that. My parents don't love me. They just want to be able to show their friends how brilliant their child is. Do you have any idea what that's like to live?"
She says nothing. I think I've scared her now, but I continue.
"They control me. I fight to get what I want. But they told me what I wanted to do in school, where I wanted to go with my life, who I wanted to be friends with, who I wanted to date. I listened to them, and you know where that got me? Beaten, and raped, and left bleeding and alone in my room. And now, I'm having his baby. Next time you want to bitch about what's unfair, remember that. Remember just how lucky you are. You have freedom."
I stalk off, avoiding the eyes boring into me, and duck into an empty classroom. I start to shake, and a sob shudders through me. I remind myself that I swore not to break down. I start to regain my composure as Kieran pokes his head into the room.
"Hey," he whispers softly. "What was that about?"
I wipe my eyes roughly on my sleeve. "I'm sorry. I couldn't listen to her. She just pissed me off so much."
He says nothing, only crosses the room to hug me, as he does every time something happens. I appreciate him so much, but I do wish he would say something sometimes.
The next bell goes off. That should be the signal to me that it's time to head to the office. Kieran leaves me at the door, because I've asked him to.
I pull my chin up as I open the door into the boardroom. My father is the only one here this time, dressed just as expensively as before. I greet him again with a nod and his first name.
"Have you considered the offer that your mother and I have tabled?" he asks. He says it like it's the only deal available. My heart rate picks up; part of it is nervousness, the rest excitement.
"So then, when will you be booking the appointment?"
"I said that I considered it, not that I accepted it."
My father's eyes widen at my statement. That I would dare defy him like this is unheard of to him. I don't think he ever suspected for one minute that he wouldn't be able to control me, or at least until now. Now I can see the nerves spiking and the pulse running through his neck.
"I have a counter-offer for you."
I've never seen my father look this nervous, even before a big court date. "And what's your counter-offer?" he asks hoarsely.
"My offer: you support me in this. Publically, and financially. We both know I can't get a job to be able to do this and still put myself through school. So, you will give me the money I need to do this until such time as I am out of school for good. This includes my Stoney Creek tuition for my last year. You will convince Montoya to let me stay, and to give me a room with extra space for the furniture next year. If you do this, I will agree not to out you to the media for all of this bullshit. I won't tell them how you refused to press charges against Tyler for raping your daughter, and how you tried to keep the cops from doing so. I won't tell them how you tried to cover it all up. I won't tell them how you tried to blackmail me into having an abortion. Just think how that would look. With your fame, I think there's got to be some tabloids that would just love a scandal like that, and they'll happily pay me all the money that I'd need to raise this baby for this story. And then you lose times two."
Martin swallows visibly.
"So," I finish, "you help me, and I'll keep your reputation clean. Simple as that. Do we have an agreement?"
It is in moments like this one that I have no doubt that I am my father's daughter. Some things my parents were able to pick and choose. My father's ability to argue, though, and make an offer with no answer but to accept, though, is one thing that I inherited from him.
His eye twitches, and I know that he's angry. He's been bested, and that's the one thing he cannot tolerate. He won't show it, though, because he knows that even though he doesn't want to admit it, I'm right. He sighs and scratches the back of his head. "How much?"
"We'll get to all of that as we go."
"Alright," he finally says. "Fine."
I hold my hand out for him to shake. He takes it, and glares at me as he does. That glare tells me only one thing: this isn't over.
I walk back up to my locker triumphantly. I am so immersed in my accomplishment that I trip over the last stair at the top and barrel headfirst into the landing.
A set of arms catch me, putting my face within a few inches of Kieran's, of all people. I am frozen, silent in embarrassment, and make a few attempts to stutter vague apologies.
Kieran shakes his head in one of those almost-laughs that he does so often, and that's when I realize just how close those few inches are. My heart takes control of my body. I don't even realize that I am moving to close that gap, and then my lips touch his, only for a brief moment.
Kieran hasn't moved when I pull away. He is still holding me the way he caught me. Realizing what I've just done, I stand up and step back. He's looking at me with the strangest expression on his face that I can't place. In it, I see surprise, confusion, curiosity and wonder all mixed in with who knows what else. I wonder nervously if I stunned him.
I look down, away from his eyes, and bite down on my lip. "I'm sorry," I say. "I shouldn't have done that." I lament it, but rejoice all the same that I did it.
"Says who?" He steps toward me, puts a hand on my arm, and this time, I don't flinch away.
His hand slides up my arm, over my shoulder, and to the back of my neck. I start to lean in. "I think your conscience is lying to you," he says immediately before he bends his head down and kisses me fiercely.
This kiss is nothing like our meaningless staged kisses between Romeo and Juliet. This is fiery and rough, and leaves me desperate for another, and since there is no one else in sight, I take it.
When he finally pulls away, I am leaning against the wall, breathing heavily. He puts his forehead to mine and looks at me. "You have no idea how long I've waited for that."
"I think I've been waiting even longer," I answer between breaths.
In answer, he kisses me again, this time tenderly. It sends sparks through me so that I feel like I'm caught in a lightning storm.
This is just a heads up that, as NaNoWriMo kicks off next week, this might very well be the last chapter until the beginning of December or so. If I finish one before then, I'll post it for you all, but during November, my NaNo story will be my priority.
On that note, is anyone else doing NaNo this year? Don't know what it is? Check out: Basically, you write a novel in a month. I just hope to finish it this time. Last year's is still in progress... Anyways, though, I'm super excited for this year, since I'm in a new region because I moved for school, and half the write-ins are a block away from my apartment! I didn't go to any last year because they were so hard to get to, so I'm looking forward to going and meeting all these new people!
Cheers everyone! I'm off to do some writing!