In a moment everything changed.
"Fuck," she whispered, from her seat on the edge of the bathtub. Ten bloody minutes she'd sat there with her panties around her ankles, chain smoking like a maniac and waving the smoke out the window, praying the alarm wouldn't go off. If it did, she vowed to herself, rising from her seat and dragging her underwear back up, she would just answer the door like this.
Red-eyed and sobbing, with no trousers on.
She read the piece of plastic again.
"Oh, fuck," this time it was a sob, "oh, bloody fuck, what the hell am I going to do?"
The phone rang. She ignored it. The message machine picked up.
"Hey, Brit! So, um…yeah. I just got some great news! Got the position in the Big Apple, can you believe it? I'll be flying out in a couple of months, though. Still plenty of time to finish up where we've left off, right?"
It was amazing that the junior lawyer could even tie his shoes in the morning.
"So…ring me when you get the chance. You coming out to the pub later tonight? Hope the answer's 'yes'. Cheers, babe!"
Absolutely amazing. Wanker.
Brittany stumbled into the kitchen and poured herself a very stiff drink. Before the first drop touched her lips, though, she glanced down at her stomach and poured the stuff into the sink. She could have thrown the glass in after it, but set it down calmly on the counter.
Rather too calmly. She should have known that the moment she sat down on her sofa that she'd start to cry.
Condoms were said to be over ninety percent effective when used properly. This was hardly her first rodeo, as the Americans so eloquently put it, so why had it chosen this time, this time of all or any times, to break on her? On him, rather.
This acidic humor hardly put her in a better mood. She clutched a pillow firmly against her chest and simply let herself wail.
Wailing was only a temporary solution. When the extreme force of thirst took her back into the kitchen, she took one look at her mascara-smeared face and decided that a long bath was required. Her tears had left her extremely drained, as though all the sorrow, fear, anger, and pounding worry had left her through a hole somewhere along her left foot.
Of course, the fantasy of the hole in her left foot might be because that was where James had trod on it as they danced together the evening before last. She'd sent him home because she'd assumed that her period was about to start. Might as well have had the evening of fun, as it turned out.
She made all the preparations this time: lit the candles, set out drinks and snacks (some leftover gourmet crackers and cheese and, unfortunately, water), and set some Mozart playing.
She had gotten through shampooing her hair, shaving her legs, and pumicing her feet before keeping the sharp bite of worry out of her consciousness became too great a strain.
"Oh, fuck," she whispered again, "what am I going to do?"
The phone rang again. She needed to stop saying that.
Brittany was out of the tub and picking up the phone before she realized that a bathrobe might have been a good idea. God, but she needed to turn up the heat! In the middle of January, standing around in a cold apartment (soaking wet) wasn't grade-A thinking.
"Mum," she gasped the word, "Mum, do you think you could come round to dinner tonight?"
The voice on the other end sounded pleasantly flattered. "In fact, darling, I was just about to ask you to come round our place. Daddy's away this week, on business, as I think I mentioned, last I called, and it's really quite lonely hereabouts. Mavis and Esther are gone too…some sort of Ladies' Aid convention."
"That's…that's fine," Brittany said, to stem the flow of her mother's words, "I'll be there in an hour."
"Lovely, dear! But Britty," she continued, "are you all right?"
God, she hated that nickname. From anyone other than Mum.
She melted, and she felt the snot and tears spring up from their source. "I," that was quite nasal, "I…just got some really bad news today, Mum. Can you wait to hear it till I get there?" She managed a weak chuckle.
"Of course I can. Come as soon as you're able. I love you."
A tear started its burning path down. "I love you too."
When she rang off, Brittany gripped the edge of the kitchen table until her knuckles were white and her hands went numb. The tear tickled at the edge of her jaw line, but she didn't dare wipe it away. She'd cried enough over this. Now she had to make up her mind.
She eschewed makeup, though her face was dreadfully pale, so when the cab rang her doorbell, she was ready. She'd even remembered to bring the leftover chocolate torte (mostly un-ravaged…ooh, bad choice of words) inside one of her mother's sensible plastic leftover tubs.
She fell asleep on the ride over. When the driver woke her with repeated cries of "Hey! Lady!" her head felt feverishly heavy and her temples pounded dully. She paid him and thankfully remembered her purse (although he must have enjoyed the torte later on that night) before making her way up the garden path.
Her Mum, Martha, quiet, clever, and infinitely good-hearted, met her at the door. She took one look at her daughter's face and led her immediately into the kitchen, warmed by the recent heat of the oven, and gave her a steaming cup of tea. One spoon of cream and two of sugar…just the way she liked it. Liked it at home, anyway, where no one would pressure her about maintaining her figure. Bloody harpies.
Martha turned to the stove and served up two plates of mashed potatoes, roast chicken, and peas. Setting one plate down in front of her daughter, she wisely kept silence, eating slowly, until her beloved girl spilled the beans.
"I'm pregnant, Mum."
Well. Not quite the beans she'd expected.
"I know you're going to be pissed at me because I always said I wasn't like that," Brittany rushed on, "and usually I'm not! I don't even know what I was thinking, with this one…"
There'd been more than one?
"…because he's really sort of a moron. I just," she cut off abruptly, and sighed. "You're never going to believe me."
Martha swallowed, and pushed her plate aside, reaching for her daughter's hands. "I am not going to say that I'm not disappointed. I am. But what is most important, angel, is what you think about this. What do you want to do?"
Brittany's face contorted, but she controlled her cry with impressive strength of will. "I don't know. Every time I think about…getting rid of it," Martha's hands tightened around her daughter's, "I feel sick. I can't do it, not even if I didn't believe it's a baby. But every time I think about keeping it…I can't breathe."
She pulled her hands from her mother's and stood up, facing the sink and gazing through the window into the dark, snowy garden.
"I'm not ready, Mum. I can't face them…at work, at the meetings…God, what will…"
She cut herself off.
Martha knew she wasn't finished. "What will what, Britty?"
"What will," she said, her voice almost calm, "What will Jeremy think?"
Martha sighed. Silently. "Who is Jeremy?"
Brittany laughed. "You never did meet him, did you?" She turned from the window and Martha could see her face, her forehead wrinkled with worry and her eyes mirrors of tears. Martha shook her head, pity and worry equally mingled.
Her daughter sighed. "And I so wanted you to meet him. He always had an excuse, though. He had work, he had a meeting, he had to go to a friend's party…he had to wash his hair," her voice was flinty and vindictive. She sighed again, relaxing her clenched fists, and went on.
"I guess it's a ridiculously overdone story. He was handsome, smart, charming. I was stupid and fresh out of school, ready to try something more permanent. He flattered me. I had sex with him. And I kept having sex with him, even when I suspected he didn't feel the same about me."
Her fingers jittered nervously at the handles of her purse, where it hung from the back of the kitchen chair, tugging at a loose strand in the leather. Pulling and tugging.
"Honestly…" she laughed, an edge of hysteria creeping in, "you'd think it's a bad novel!"
"Well," Martha said, trying to lighten the mood, "it would depend on who wrote it. I think something like that could be quite good with the proper author."
Brittany smiled wanly. "I wanted him to meet my friends, and he came up with excuses. I wanted him to meet you and he started getting distant. He transferred to another department. I finally confronted him, and he said…"
Martha wished she could take half the sorrow on herself.
Brittany's voice was tiny.
"He said he thought I knew…that I knew what this was! He said he'd never…never…"
Brittany did not cry, but her voice was one long sob.
Martha was out of her chair in a moment, and at her daughter's side. Brittany did not cry, but she put her head in the crook of her mother's neck and held on hard.
A few minutes of silence. The grandfather clock in the hallway struck eight o'clock.
Brittany's muscles relaxed, bit by bit, and eventually she withdrew her head enough to speak.
"After that I started sleeping around. I did enjoy the sex, and being a virgin wasn't anything that mattered, now. All the other guys were really decent, too. I know that you'll tell me I should have been stronger, I should have prayed…but I just felt so worthless." For such strong sentiments, Brittany's voice hardly raised above a whisper. "But I couldn't tell you, I just couldn't."
Martha recognized the spiraling accents of despair in her daughter's voice, and decided to take firm charge of this conversation.
"Brittany," she said, holding her daughter by the shoulders and easing her back upright, "I want you to call your job and tell them you can't come in tomorrow. You're ill. Then I want you to go upstairs and change into some nightclothes in your room. You are going to drink a cup of tea and go to sleep. Tomorrow we will think of what needs to be done."
Of all the things that brought her closest to crying that night, her mother's firm commands were certainly the hardest to bear. Brittany nodded, slowly, blinking rapidly, and pulled her mobile out of her purse. Martha made tea and pretended not to hear how sick her daughter really sounded as she left a message on her boss's machine.
Brittany woke up, surprised that she had even been able to go to sleep. But after the cup of tea and a prayer, holding her mother's hands, she had dropped right off, almost as if someone had pulled a veil over her waking thoughts. Since she often spent nights or even weekends at her parents' house, she left a small all-seasons wardrobe in what had been her bedroom, and now she pulled out some clothes, and took a long shower.
When she went downstairs, her mother was making tea and a fry-up for breakfast. She had also expected to have no appetite, but French toast, sausage, and scrambled eggs certainly made her stomach growl.
She was halfway through her plate when her mother broke the stream of innocuous conversation (how the chickens took to the snow, what seeds she was going to order for her spring planting) and brought them back to the situation.
"Brittany," she said, in her Serious-Mum voice, "what have you decided?"
Her daughter nodded, slowly, stabbing a sausage contemplatively. "I think I need to have it."
A beat. "It will change your entire life, whether you keep it or give it away for adoption. You know that."
"I know. But I made the mistake, not the baby. I can't punish it for my stupidity."
Martha nodded, glad to see that most of her daughter was still there. "Okay. So, let's just concentrate on getting through the next nine months, shall we?"
Brittany smiled, the expression watery. "Yeah."