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Something in the Water

Chapter Five: Lab Rat

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Dr. Stevens leads us to the waiting room to tell my parents the big news - well, really to confirm what I knew all along.

I walk alongside of Ben, my arm hooked around his elbow. I lean my head on his shoulder, and he kisses my hair. I think this new smile on my face might be permanent.

"What names do you like?" I ask him.

"Names?" He questions. "Already?"

I shrug. "Well, he needs a name, doesn't he?"

Ben purses his lips. "So it's a boy, now?"

"Boy, girl, whatever." I roll my eyes. "The kid needs a good name either way."

Ben stays quiet. I can't tell if he's thinking about names or if he's just ignoring me. I yawn and close my eyes, wishing I could sleep now. This could have been the longest day of my life.

The yawn is contagious, because Ben yawns, too.

"You don't have to stay here with me tonight." I tell him, even though I don't want him to leave my sight. "Go home and get a good night's sleep."

"Trying to get rid of me, are you?" He teases.

I am about to say something smart back to him, but I spot the waiting room ahead of us. Dr. Stevens is already speaking with my mom and dad. Ben's parents are here now, too. His mother, the tiny woman with light blue eyes, notices us standing in the background. Her light eyes are drawn directly to my stomach.

"They don't believe her." Ben mutters to me, leaning close to my ear.

I gather something in my chest that resembles bravery and march right up to the huddle around the doctor. "Excuse me."

Five pairs of accusing eyes focus on me. I face them all, trying to keep my knees from shaking.

"Emma, sweetheart, there's no way this is true." Dad's hair was graying before, but it looks even more gray now. "They still need to do more tests before they can be certain."

I have trouble seeing the problem. "It is true." I insist. "I saw it. We have pictures, don't we? Show them." I look to Dr. Stevens for some backup.

She shuffles through the papers in her hands and pulls out the sheet with three pictures of my baby. Ben's parents aren't arguing it, but it doesn't mean they agree. My parents are just as stubborn as always.

"What other tests can you do?" My mother asks, her hair starting to fall out of its intricate up do.

"We've seen slight immunities to the birth control before, but never so much that it allows a pregnancy. I suppose we'll need to do more testing to figure out what it is that makes her immune." Dr. Stevens remains calm, regardless of the frantic atmosphere around her.

"And turn her into a lab rat?" Ben quickly jumps in, offended. "She's having a baby, not an alien."

His mom speaks up. "Ben, it's more complicated than just that."

"It's important that they find out why it happened, so they can fix the problem." His father adds.

"Fix the problem?" I gasp, doubtful of what I heard. "My baby is not a problem. Why do I have to fix it?"

"Emma, stop it." Dad tells me, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You need to let us figure things out first."

They're not even listening to me. "What do you have to figure out? It's my baby. Our baby." I hook on to Ben again.

"I don't mean to interrupt," The doctor tries to gain control of the situation. "But visiting hours are over at ten. I don't think there's much we can do right now anyway, so it's best for Emma to get some rest."

I am still unsettled, but I know she's right. My dad volunteers to stay the night with me, and Mom kisses me goodnight. I still see the hazy look in her eyes that strengthens the wall building between my parents and I.

I realize that Ben has to leave me here too, and it feels like a slap in the face. He sees the understanding start to sink in.

"I'll be back first thing in the morning." He promises. "Before you wake up. I'll be here."

I want more than anything for him to stay with me. Right now, he's the only one on my side. The rims of my eyes blur with tears, and I internally curse myself for showing such weakness.

He turns back to his parents, who are clearly in a rush to get out of here. "Can I walk her back to her room?"

"I think we'll be alright." My dad says. He likes Ben, and our families have known each other for years. But maybe his opinion has changed.

Ben's trying not to clench his teeth. "Then can I talk to her for five minutes?" He doesn't really listen for an approval, and pulls me far enough away for some privacy.

"Don't be angry with your parents." I say, sucking up the tears. "They didn't know anything before now."

"Oh, they'll be fine." He leans around me to confirm that our parents are far enough away. "Listen. Don't let them make decisions for you, Em. You're right, it's your baby. You get to decide what you want to do. Don't let them tell you any different, okay?"

I nod, even though I know deep down the Evaluator will get the last word.

"You're a brave girl." He wipes the stray tears with his thumb. "I think you'll make it through the night."

I think of myself lying in my dull hospital bed all alone with the weight of this new life on my shoulders and the tears return with a vengeance. "I love you."

He kisses me once, just as a goodbye, but comes back for another. It's a deeper kiss, one that helps me forget where we are and why we're here. I need it desperately.

. . . . . . . .

Dad doesn't sleep a wink, and neither do I. My night is spent rolling around in the hospital bed, wondering how the hell I'm going to get through the next hour, let alone the next six months.

Dad finds comfort in the fact that we have an entire six months to figure things out. He'll need time to mend his reputation of being the father of the girl who got pregnant at seventeen. However, I don't think it's enough time at all.

They make me believe I have some sort of disease, the way that I'm isolated and tested on. What makes me so special? Why am I the one to get pregnant? How am I supposed to mature at least three years in less then half?

I don't know what time it is, but I consider fishing out answers from Dad. He's researching the history of the water and what exactly it is that they put in it. I'm kind of glad he's in the room with me, so I don't feel as lonely as I could. But in an opinionated sense, I'm alone without Ben.

I want to ask Dad what he thinks will happen with the Evaluation part of this. I want to know if he'll ask us to take the test - but I don't want to know what will happen if we don't pass. I survey the process in my head.

For a normal couple, the process is pretty straight forward. Twenty is the youngest age for marriage, which is presumably followed by a scheduled Evaluation. An Evaluator is assigned to the couple and he is the one that ultimately determines whether the couple is cleared and responsible enough to raise a child.

After clearance from the Evaluation, the couple receives a license to be detoxified. A prescribed dose of medication is given to the man and woman which cleanses the body of the birth control solution in the water. After four weeks of cleansing, the body becomes fertile and a pregnancy is guaranteed.

I'm three years away from twenty. I can't beat the age requirement, but it doesn't mean I'm not capable of taking care of a baby. As for the marriage, I told Ben I would marry him right now - but I didn't mean I wanted to have a baby right now. And then we're back at the license test.

It doesn't make any sense. I was just thrilled with the idea of having a baby of my own, and now I'm dreading it. It isn't fair that I let people do that to me, and Ben made sure I knew that.

I'm slowly beginning to understand what I'm becoming. I'm not just Emma Sullivan, the average teenager who dreams of boy bands and makeup. I've been thrust full throttle into parenthood, whether I like it or not.

I guess now it's just a matter of how I deal with it.

. . . . . . . .

It's almost noon when the dirty little liar finally finds his way to my room.

He nods at my father, seated in the hall with his Evaluation books, before entering the code he has written on the back of his hand. In the other, he has a styrofoam cup with a straw poked through the top.

He comes through the doors, out of breath. I glare at him.

"Hey, I'm sorry, they -"

"What the hell, Ben!" I shout, holding no mercy for him. "I've been up since seven this morning, but I really didn't sleep at all, and you said you would be here!"

He holds up his palm. "I -"

"They took blood from me, like, five times, and they put me in some kind of head scanner that determines my hormone levels or something. And I threw up again! But you weren't here to hold my hair this time, were you?"

He changes what he's going to say just before he says it. "You did that head scanning thing, too?"

I huff. "I don't care about the damn head scanner!" I stop and register what he's said. "What do you mean did I do it too?" I subconsciously notice the baggy white outfit that fits his broad shoulders better than mine. "Why are you wearing that?"

He half smiles. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. I'm stuck here for the day, too."

My heart drops. "Why? What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"I'm the one that got you pregnant, remember?" He offers me the milkshake with a wink. I suppose joking about it is helping him cope with this. "Strawberry?"

"I can't." I pout. "They put some kind of dye inside me and they're scanning me again in ten minutes. I'm not allowed to eat or drink."

Ben sighs and mutters something along the lines of 'lab rat' under his breath. He spots my father hunched over the pile of books and steps out of the room to offer it to him. Dad barely lifts his eyes for five seconds before he refuses.

Ben sulks back in to me. "Well what am I supposed to do with it now? I hate strawberry." He slaps it on the side table and drops himself horizontally across my bed.

"I don't know. So wait, you were doing tests all morning, too?"

He nods. "They tackled me when I walked in the front door. That's why I couldn't come and see you right away."

I crawl onto to bed and sit with my legs crossed beside his head. "Did it hurt?"

"Not really, it was just annoying. And really boring." He pauses a moment before flipping onto his back to stare at me. "They didn't hurt you, did they?"

I shake my head, losing my fingers in his dark curls. My response causes him to sit upright completely. "Emma."

"No, it didn't hurt." I say honestly. The machines and needles didn't hurt me, they were just scary. Really scary.

I have to pat his head again as reassurance. His eyes are sharp as they check for a lie that isn't there, and he eventually lies back on the bed.

I play with the stubby ends of my socks. "Ben?"

He grunts, covering his face with his hands.

"Who's going to tell Sam and Sara?"

Ben hesitates, before he grunts again. "They'll find out before we have to tell them."

"But don't you think we should tell them ourselves?"

He pauses again, and his pausing unsettles me. He usually knows exactly what to say. "Maybe we should wait until the doctor's finished testing. Just so we have proof."

I don't like his word choice, either. "Proof? Ben, you saw the baby in there."

"I know." There's a break in his voice.

I feel sick again, but it's quickly replaced by heat in my cheeks. "You don't think I'm pregnant, either? You're just like them!"

"Relax, Em. I'm on your side."

"You can't be on my side if you're a skeptic like the rest of them!"

Dr. Stevens arrives to escort me to whatever crazy test they want to do now. Ben shoots up from the bed and offers her the milkshake, but she politely refuses - unlike my father.

"This one won't take long, Emma." Dr. Stevens tells me. She notices the pout on my face and the redirection of Ben's eyes. "Have I interrupted something?"

"Yeah, you did." The whine comes from my tongue, but I can't believe I've let it escape. Ben peeks at me from the corner of his eye, and I sigh. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have -"

The doctor drops her delicate hand on my shoulder. Her smile is heartfelt. "I understand. Would you like me to come back in a few minutes? We aren't in any rush."

I'd rather not delay the inevitable. "No, I want to get it over with."

"How many more tests does she have to take?" Ben questions. He can't hide his worry for my safety. I don't really mind the testing, it's just a little annoying. Nothing really hurts me.

"Just a few. The tests are only a precaution." She attempts to lead me away without further questioning.

"Precaution for what?" He asks.

"Ben," I wait for his eyes to meet mine. "I'll be right back."

He reluctantly lets it go, lounging back on my pillow to nap while I'm gone. "See you later, Lab Rat."