"Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself…"
- Bob Diddley, Before You Accuse Me
2| Pretty Eyed, Pirate Smile
Two days earlier (January 2nd)…
Lorene stares down her reflection.
Every angle, every shadow and curve. She weighs the cut of her cheekbones against the swell of her lips, against the fall of her hair, against the sweep of her lashes, and everything looks brittle. Hollow. Unreal.
She tilts her head back.
Dipping her lashes, Lorene pinches the corner of her eyelid taut to apply mascara, and the motion is mechanical enough, empty enough that she doesn't have to think until she finishes with both sides, fits the brush back into the bottle and screws the cap. When she looks at herself again, blinking once, twice, she makes herself think again. Face up to what she's readying herself for.
We need to talk.
I have something important to tell you.
There's something serious I need to discuss with you.
"Derik…" Lorene's voice cracks, and she immediately shuts her eyes, breathing in deep against the sting that builds behind her lashes. No. "No," she hisses to herself. "You stupid girl, you're better than this…"
Three breaths, five, ten, and she opens her eyes. She pinches her lips together and then parts them, touches her tongue to the back of her teeth and exhales, meeting her stare head on.
"Derik." Her throat tightens; she ignores it. "I'm pregn—gnnh…" Her lashes flit, like wet butterflies, and she touches the backs of two fingers to her lips. "I'm pregnant," she whispers against her knuckles, and then repeats it. "Derik, I'm pregnant. I need…" She swallows and breathes out, propping her forehead on her fingers instead. "Derik, I need you to do something for me…"
Nearly an hour passes before she picks up her phone.
"Hey, babe, what's up?" Derik sounds out of breath, happy, and distracted. Lorene's gut knots and she opens her mouth, but her tongue's dry. "Hey look," Derik cuts in before she manages a response. "Can I, ah, can I call you back? I'm a bit busy."
Lorene focuses on the soft pink of her nails, on the cool brush of her inhale when it draws past her lipstick. Not the way Derik must look right now. Not the way his face always warms when he smiles, or how open he looks when he's happy. How his cheeks flush when he's breathless, and how right now, he's smiling because of someone else, somewhere else, and he doesn't have time for her.
He never has time.
Derik's laughing, talking off-stage to someone else. Quan? Probably. Lorene reminds herself that she promised to tell him today. But she can't help but ask.
"Who are you with?"
"Mm? Oh, Quan. He's ah…" Derik snorts at something said out of her earshot and then says, "He's helping us re-pack Christmas shit back up in the attic. We found these great ribbons. Really long and…sturdy—"
"Will you shut up?"
Lorene twines two fingers into her hair, and tries not to wonder what Derik thinks about when he kisses his best friend. Tries not to wonder if she even crosses his mind, if she ever did, if there's any girl who could make him look twice.
"Derik, I need to talk to you."
"Right now? Babe, I'm kind of caught up—"
"When you're through," Lorene says. "An hour?"
Derik hums, and Quan says something indecipherable. "Gimme an hour and a half."
"Are your parents home?"
"They won't be."
"I'll meet you at your house," Lorene says.
"I love you…"
"Love you too." Derik hangs up.
Lorene hates that she envies Quan. She hates that she wonders if this hurts him, too — if it hurts to just hear Derik tell her he loves her, even if the words are empty — and she hopes, vindictively but without regret, that it does. Because it isn't fair.
It isn't fair that Quan will never have to deal with what she's dealing with now. It isn't fair that he can make Derik happy so effortlessly when she's spent years trying to figure out how, and it isn't fair that no matter what she does, no matter what she says, and no matter how she dresses or how willing she is turn the other cheek, her body will not rebuild itself differently.
She will never be what Derik wants, and coming to terms with that hurts almost as much as concluding that Quan seems to be everything Derik wants without even trying. Maybe he doesn't even realize it. Lorene tucks her phone away.
An hour and a half later, she parks in Derik's driveway, drops her keys into her purse, and pulls her coat tighter around herself before stepping out. January air bites at her cheeks and nose, bringing a sharp flush to them, and she starts immediately towards the door. It opens before she reaches it.
"Lori!" Derik stands shirtless in the doorway, but he tugs his way into clothes as she approaches and ushers her in, closing the door behind her. "You look nice. Going somewhere after?" he asks as he dips, kissing her cheek, and he smells like old wood, dust, cardboard, and his cologne. Lorene turns her head and catches him in a proper, if brief, kiss and tries not to wonder how long ago Quan was there before her.
"No," she says. "Just you."
When she shrugs out of her coat, Derik offers a hand to take it, and his eyes flit over her. More curious than usual. "You been working out?"
She frowns, curbing the urge to lay her fingers over her stomach. "No. Why?"
He shrugs, and her shoulders relax when he looks away. "Dunno. Guess you just look…" After hanging up her coat, he makes vague, wordless curving gestures with his hands. "Fuller?" Something must show in her expression, because immediately he stumbles to add more. "In a good way, I mean it. Like seriously. You look healthy. Not like you're gonna…break in half, or whatever." He frowns. "Sorry. That wasn't…what are you here for again?"
Lorene opens her mouth, but closes it before anything comes out and touches her fingers to her stomach in spite of herself, lowering her gaze.
"There's something I need to talk to you about."
At a moment's notice, Derik's posture shifts: casual to defensive in a heartbeat, and his shoulders square off, jaw setting. "Is it your step dad again? If he touch—"
Lorene shakes her head. "No, it's not—no. I'm fine. I…it's different."
Some of Derik's tension seeps out, but impatience replaces it. "Yeah? 'Kay, well, spit it out? I'm heading over to the court on ninth with Travis and Wes and them in about an hour or so. Figured we'd shoot some hoops before it got dark." He meanders off towards his kitchen as he talks, bare toes curling when he moves from carpet to tile, and when he opens the fridge his body drapes from the door like an ornament. "You want a soda?"
Lorene breathes out sharply. "I'm pregnant."
Derik must not hear her at first, because he barely moves, reaching into the bowels of his fridge instead and fetching a can of something Lorene doesn't care enough about to name. "You what?" he asks, closing the door behind him with his foot, and Lorene curbs the urge to glare.
"I said, Derik, I'm pregnant."
Derik pauses with his fingers poised above his soda's pop top, blinks, and then frowns, lowering the can and eyeing her bemusedly. "Okay? So…what?" he asks. "Do you want me to drive you to the clinic or something?"
Lorene shuts her eyes, combing her fingers back through her hair, and she hears Derik place his can on the counter.
"Okay, what?" he says, and she shakes her head.
"I should have known better than to hope you'd take this seriously."
"I am taking this seriously! This is me being serious," Derik says. "What do you want me to say? 'I'm sorry?' 'Congratulations?' 'Cool, who's the dad?' Like, what?"
"God, you're such an asshole…"
"I'm not aborting it."
"Okay, so um, other than the obvious, 'Why the fuck not?' What the hell does this have to do with me? Are we breaking up, is that what this is?"
Lorene's throat knots, but she keeps her voice even. "It has to do with you, Derik, because you are my boyfriend, in case you've managed to forget already, and no, we're not breaking up."
"Uh. How about, we sure will be if you want to keep that thing?"
"—is not mine!" Derik snaps, his voice finally rising to something approaching a proper shout. "You can do whatever the hell you want with your vag and your kid, but unless I put it in you — which I didn't — I don't see why the fuck you consider it my responsibility. I don't want a damn thing to do with it. If you want me to help you out of it, that's fine, whatever, I don't give two shits, but I'm not going to go around school with a pregnant girlfriend when—"
"We're not breaking up," Lorene says. "I'm keeping the baby, we're staying together, and yes, you are going to go around school with a pregnant girlfriend because you're going to tell everyone it's ours."
Derik's hands drop to his sides. "I'm sorry," he says and starts towards her, his voice cooling to something barely above a threat. "I don't know what just went through your head, but I think you missed the part where I said: It's. Not. My. Fucking. Responsi—"
"Or," Lorene cuts in, "we can do it your way, and I'll make sure everyone in this state knows you've been fucking your linebacker for the past six months."
Derik stills, and watching his chain of expressions is like watching something be put together — piece by piece slid into place as he takes in the implications of her statement — only to shatter apart as the impact of it hits.
"Say that again?" His voice is hoarse, harsh, and low, and Lorene's fingers shake when he steps forward, but she closes them to still them and holds her ground.
"I'm not stupid, Derik, and you heard me the first time. So let's both save ourselves some time, skip the, 'I don't know what you're talking about…' 'What the hell are you getting at?' Whatever other bullshit you want to throw at me and get to the part where you get your head around the fact that I know exactly what you two get up to, and I have covered for you…"
Her voice cracks, and she swallows the sound, nails digging tighter into her palms because Derik looks ready to break her in half and she hates herself for trembling but can't stop.
"I covered for you. I said nothing when other people asked what was going on, why my boyfriend was off to who knew where, why I stuck with him when he never seemed to have time for me, too busy for me because he'd rather be sucking cock than—"
"Shut up!" His hands snatch up her wrists like vice grips and she tenses when he shakes her. "Shut up, shut up, just shut—" But his voice fails him, his fingers tight enough on her wrists to burn when he shuts his eyes. "I can't take care of a baby, we're fucking seventeen, Lori, it's not mine…"
"I'm not asking you to take care of it," Lorene says, barely audible because her eyes are stinging in parallel to the synch of his fingers on her skin, but she isn't going to cry. She won't. He hasn't let go yet. "I'm not asking you to pay for it. I'm not asking you marry me. I'm not even asking you stick around after. All I want is for you to stand next to me, Derik. I don't know how to do this alone, and you owe me this much…I—" She swallows, and her breath leaves her in a garbled tumble, her next words even softer than before. "Derik, you're hurting me…"
His hands jerk back, letting go quickly as a man burned, and she watches him grip the hair at the nape of his neck, swearing beneath his breath. "Sorry." After his arms fall to his sides, he retreats, turning. The SLAM! of both of his open palms to the nearest wall when he gets there makes her jump, and then wince. But he doesn't move from there, just dips his head, bracing his forehead against the space between his palms.
After a significant pause, she says, "…Derik—?"
"How far along are you?"
Lorene runs her thumb over her fingernails, frowning at the carpet. "Over two months now…ten weeks or so?"
"And how long have you known? About…" Derik hesitates and doesn't clarify, but from his tone Lorene's fairly certain he isn't talking about her pregnancy.
"Since this summer."
Derik's palms curl into fists against the wall, but otherwise don't budge. "Why didn't you tell anyone? You didn't even say anything to me. How could…" He trails off, and Lorene watches his face pinch, some unreadable emotion mingling in with all the rest. Finally, he pushes up off the wall, turns, and sinks back against it, folding his arms over his chest and avoiding her gaze. "Weren't you disgusted?"
She blinks. Of all his possible questions — accusations, demands, threats — this is something she never prepared herself for.
"Disgusted? I was angry," she says. "Frustrated." She hesitates. "Jealous, maybe." After a moment, she shrugs. "It answered a lot of questions, though, so at least I was less confused."
Derik frowns and looks up. "Questions?"
Lorene's eyebrows arch. "Please. I've had guys cum before I could get their pants off. Kind of pathetic, but at least it's flattering. With you? I've felt like I was boring you before while my mouth was on your dick. More than once. Do you know what that kind of treatment does to a girl's ego? Finding out you were gay—"
"I'm not gay," Derik snaps, and it takes Lorene a full three seconds to realize he is indeed serious, and laugh. Derik's cheeks heat, but his scowl sets. "I'm not—"
Derik opens his mouth.
"Derik, you touch me like you're my gynecologist," Lorene says. "You put your hands on my breasts like you're looking for signs of breast cancer and then avoid them like you might catch something afterwards. Getting you to cum is like trying to convince a bear to eat broccoli, and the few times you've orgasmed while actually fucking me were when I let you take me up the ass. Most of the time I have to blow you with your eyes closed before you get anywhere. I—"
"Okay! Jesus fuck," Derik cuts in. "Just because I'm not attracted to you doesn't mean I'm a fag."
"Um, have you looked at me recently?" Lorene retorts. "Ninety percent of the guys at our school would bend over backwards just for a chance to be dating me. The rest of them are either freshmen who haven't had their balls drop yet, or are gay."
"They won't be lining up in a couple more months, I'll tell you that…"
"In seven months, Derik, I won't be pregnant. You'll still be queer. I am beautiful, and I will still be beautiful after this baby. No matter what happens in these next few months, I will make it and my life will keep moving forward, but it will be a hell of a lot easier if I don't have to deal with swimming through the sea of shit I'll get thrown at me if I have to do this alone. Right now? You have two options."
Derik scowls and opens his mouth, but Lorene continues before he gets a word in.
"Behind door number one: you cooperate, keep doing whatever the fuck you've been doing with Quan for all I care, act sweet to me at school, smile and look pretty, and everything goes smoothly. Or, door number two, you do whatever you want, break up with me, laugh at me, leave me behind and I will drag your ass and his through at least as much hell as I'm going to suffer and then some. Trust me…" Lorene folds her arms and reminds herself to breathe, pulse like a panicked bird in her throat despite the icy calm to her tone. She's fine; she's going to be fine; she can do this. "I will make sure you regret that option if you pick it."
Derik eyes her for several long seconds before pushing up off the wall. Lorene holds herself still when he approaches, holds his stare, doesn't flinch. His eyes flit down when he's standing in front of her, taking her in, and when her lip starts to quiver, she bites it, looking away with a pinched scowl to mask the fear bubbling up like oil in her chest.
She shuts her eyes and jerks like a startled bird when his thumb touches her cheek, barely there.
"Are you crying?"
"Piss off," she snaps, but it's a choked whisper and her voice is falling apart. As though tipped by a catalyst, some of the rigidity in his posture dissolves then — unspoken anger fragmenting like soft stone under the crash of one too many waves — and his sigh ripples over the top of her head, warm in defeat.
"Don't cry," he says, his words neither gentle nor harsh. "I don't know what the hell to do when girls cry…"
When Lorene laughs, the sound is brittle enough that it cracks on its way past her lips. "I'm not crying," she says, closing her eyes tighter as dampness builds in an acrid sting behind her eyelids, gathers and catches in her lashes, and finally spills like a secret held too tightly, slipping through the cracks and down her cheeks. "You hate me."
Derik's knuckles could be digging into her, beating her, punishing her for manipulating him. Instead they sweep her skin like the bristles of a paintbrush, ushering back the wetness on her cheeks and smoothing it over like blush or concealer.
"I'm pissed at you," he says. "And I don't understand why you've decided to do shit the way you have, but I don't hate you. I've known you too long for that."
His gentleness makes her tremble with all the feelings she doesn't want to have for him, and her breath leaves her in a rippled exhale, her crossed arms loosening and falling to her sides, limp and open. She wants to drop her forehead to his chest, but isn't sure she can without scaring him off and the last thing she wants now is for him to step away. He doesn't.
"You gonna tell me who the dad is?"
Her lips curve up weakly and she shrugs. "Some asshole I fucked while you were blowing Quan against my car. I don't remember his name."
"You forget your pill or something?"
"No." She shakes her head. "I remembered it. He said he had condoms, too, but by time he got me to his car and half undressed he was like, 'Oh, I can't find them, I think I used up my last one…' Blah, blah bullshit, whatever. But I was pissed at you and a bit drunk, and I knew I'd remembered my pill so I thought you know what, fuck it. I've been responsible. I take care of myself. Chances of it becoming a problem are shit small, so why not?" Her smile turns wry, bitter. "Mother nature does love surprises, though, right?"
Derik snorts, and she glances up to him.
"Do you care who the father is?"
"Not really." He shrugs. "I was just wondering if I could go beat out my frustrations on the guy who knocked up my girlfriend, that's all."
Lorene chews her lower lip, a semblance of her first genuine smile that evening tugging its way into place. Before she says anything more, though, he speaks up again, more hesitant — guarded — than he's sounded for a while now.
"So, you…really don't think it's disgusting?"
Lorene rolls her eyes. "Spiders are disgusting, Derik. Shit and upchuck are disgusting. Those girls who start to get snot dribbling from their nostrils and like…" She crinkles her nose, fingers wriggling nondescriptly, "…saliva seeping out of their mouths when they cry and they honk like donkeys. That is disgusting. Two hot guys who like to get naked with each other? Sorry, no. Not disgusting."
At Derik's look, she raises her eyebrows.
"You think Quan's hot?"
Lorene snorts. "Quan is hot, sweetie. You might have noticed." Derik's cheeks pink, and he scowls, but before he can open his mouth, she continues, prompting: "So?"
Derik's lips purse, but eventually he shrugs the comment off. "Whatever. Sure, I'll be your baby's daddy. Just leave Quan out of your evil master plans, okay? He's got nothing to do with it. And I'm not having anything to do with the kid in the long run."
"Relax, superman." Lorene taps his stomach. "I'm giving it up for adoption. You don't even have to help me name it."
"Apple," Derik says.
"Apple Jackass Alvarez," Derik says. "I think it has a nice ring to it."
"On second thought, the poor thing's probably lucky you're not the father."
A/N: Secretly, Derik thinks he'd make a great dad. Not for Lori's baby specifically, just you know in general, one day. Thanks for reading.