Authors: Melody Carlson
Tags: #ebook, #book
“Don’t rub it in.”
“Sorry.” Sophie patted her on the back. “But it is a relief to get out of here.”
“Well, you’ve had kind of a rough day.”
“These senior half days seem like a pretty good idea right now.”
“Think of me”—Carrie Anne sighed—“while you’re out there enjoying your freedom. So, what are you going to do to celebrate? Go to the mall? Pig out on junk food?”
“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” Sophie assured her. But the truth was that she planned to simply go home and take a nap—to temporarily escape her life and to hopefully not dream about Dylan.
It was surprisingly hot out, and she opened both doors to her Nissan to let some fresh air in before she finally got inside. She heard her stomach rumble and briefly considered Carrie Anne’s comment about getting junk food, but the memory of partially digested fries and ketchup floating in the toilet quickly wiped that temptation aside. Instead, she drove straight home. To her pleasant surprise, her mom’s car had just pulled into the driveway too. They both got out at the same time.
“Mom!” Sophie cried as she ran across the driveway to give her mom a big hug. “Welcome home.”
“Well, that was certainly unexpected.” Her mom stepped back, then studied Sophie with a perplexed expression. “What happened to you, sweetie?”
It took Sophie a moment to remember, but then she explained about falling at the lake. She almost told her about barfing at school as well but decided not to overwhelm the poor woman.
Her mother frowned at her watch. “But what’re you doing home from school early?”
“Remember senior half days?”
Her mom slapped her forehead. “Oh, I totally forgot.”
“If I didn’t already have all my AP classes, I’d probably go all day anyway. But as it is, I don’t really see the point.”
Mom put her arm around Sophie’s shoulders. “That’s what comes from being such a good student, Sophie. You and your brother make me so proud.”
Sophie grinned. “So was Bart glad to get back to campus?”
“I think so. He had to get right to practice, though. You know they have that big game this coming weekend.”
Sophie helped her mom with her bags, and they chatted as they went into the house. For a while, Sophie thought this was how it was supposed to be—mom and daughter just hanging together. But it wasn’t long before Mom announced she had to go to work.
“But it’s after two o’clock,” Sophie pointed out.
“I know, but I promised Dolores I’d come in for the three-to-nine shift for the rest of the week in exchange for the time I took off for Bart. It’s still the back-to-school season, and Dolores told me they’ve been crazy busy.” Sophie’s mom had been working part-time at Staples for several years now, but she usually didn’t work later than seven at night.
So once again, Sophie had the whole house to herself. But instead of enjoying the freedom of cranking up her music or making a mess in the kitchen (which she almost always cleaned up afterward) or watching whatever she wanted on Dad’s big-screen TV, Sophie just sat in the kitchen and felt lonely. Then she headed for her room. As she trudged up the stairs, she couldn’t remember when she’d felt so tired. Or was she just bored? Maybe she was depressed. She just wanted to go to sleep, to escape . . . everything.
When Sophie woke up, it was to the sound of an alarm ringing loudly and the smell of acrid smoke. Heart racing and certain that the house was on fire, she leaped from her bed and dashed downstairs.
Smoke was billowing from the kitchen, and on closer investigation, she realized it was simply from the remains of a Hungry Man dinner that appeared to have been torched in the oven. And the cause of the noise was the fire alarm in the laundry room. It had probably already gone off once and then must’ve detected smoke again for a second. At least the oven was turned off now, but the cook—her dad—was nowhere in sight. She opened windows and turned on the fan and wondered why on earth her dad had decided to heat his dinner in the oven rather than the usual microwave. And, furthermore, why he had taken off without even warning his daughter that she might be about to die from asphyxiation.
Her guess was that he was in a grumpy mood tonight. That he’d come home expecting his wife to be here but she was gone. Not only that, but his teenage daughter was sleeping— lazy girl! And so he’d turned on the oven, shoved in the frozen dinner, and zoned out in front of some sports show, only to be awakened by a fire alarm and smoke. Then he’d probably gotten really mad, used some choice words, jumped into his big diesel Ford pickup, and beat cheeks over to Hank’s Diner, where he would order something dripping in fat and complain to the waitress that no one understood him. Or something like that.
Sophie gingerly removed the offensive burnt offering from the oven, carried it out to the metal trash can outside, and dumped it.
“Everything okay in there?” called out Mrs. Poindexter from next door.
Sophie gave the old woman a smile. “I think my dad decided to cremate his dinner tonight.”
Mrs. Poindexter made her way slowly across her driveway toward Sophie. “Well, I smelled smoke and heard that ringing noise, and I was about to call the fire department.”
“Thanks, but it’s under control now. Sorry about the noise.”
She nodded, then looked concerned. “Goodness gracious, Sophie girl, what in the world has happened to your face?”
Once again Sophie explained about falling at the lake.
“Oh my, you know what the Good Book says, don’t you?” “What’s that?”
“Pride comes before a fall.”
Sophie considered this. “So, do you think that’s what made me fall?”
“Were you feeling mighty proud of yourself about something?”
Sophie shook her head. “Not even close.”
The old woman smiled. “Then I’m sure it wasn’t related.”
“How old are you now, Sophie girl?”
“Seventeen. But I’ll be eighteen in February.”
“You’re nearly grown then.” She shook her head. “You kids grew up so fast. Seems like yesterday you and your brother were playing in the sprinklers, dressing up for trick or treat. And now you’re a grown woman.”
Sophie laughed. “Well, not really a
Mrs. Poindexter shook her finger at her. “I was just your age when I wed my Arlen more than seventy-five years ago. And just eighteen when I had my first baby.” She chuckled. “Not that I recommend it. No, no . . . the younger generation is smart to wait.”
Sophie nodded somberly.
Mrs. Poindexter took Sophie’s hand and clasped it warmly. “You are a very smart girl, Sophie. Why, I still remember when you were a little thing, and how you’d come over and play chess with Mr. Poindexter while he was recovering from heart surgery. Do you remember that?”
Sophie nodded again, smiling a bit this time. “He was a good chess player.”
“Well, one day after you left, he took me aside and told me that you were the smartest child he’d ever laid eyes on.” Her faded eyes lit up. “And if you knew my husband, you knew that was high praise indeed.”
Sophie didn’t know what to say to that.
“And I know how you thought he was letting you win sometimes, Sophie girl. But the truth is, he never did.” Mrs. Poindexter chuckled. “Nope, he never did.” She sighed and glanced back at her house. “Well, I better get back before my own fire alarms start going off. I’ve got green beans cooking.” She turned and slowly walked back to her house.
Sophie stood there thinking about what Mrs. Poindexter had just told her. She had no idea that Mr. Poindexter hadn’t been
her win. In fact, she distinctly remembered him teasing her, saying that if and when she won, it was simply because he felt sorry for her. Anyway, it was a sweet story and a nice compliment. But she’d been a child then, and despite having a high IQ, she’d been a bit on the naive side. Maybe she still was.
The truth was, she hadn’t changed all that much. In the same way she’d fallen for Mr. Poindexter’s tricks back then, she’d fallen for Dylan’s deception just a few weeks ago. For a smart girl, she was pretty dumb. Or maybe she was just living in denial. Deep, dark denial. And if ignorance was bliss, which seemed unlikely, then knowledge was power.
Sophie marched into the house, grabbed her purse, ran out to her car, and drove to the nearest Walgreen’s. She parked the car and hurried inside, heading straight to the feminine hygiene department. She searched until she found what she was looking for—an early pregnancy test.
She glanced over her shoulder to see if anyone was around, then picked up the box and began scanning the back.
“Hurry up,” said a girl who was coming her way.
“Just chill,” another girl said.
Sophie shoved the box back onto the shelf and turned her attention to the rack next to it. Unfortunately that was the birth control section. As the two girls, both from her school, approached, Sophie reached out and grabbed a package of sanitary pads without looking closely at them. She wasn’t a pad user since she preferred tampons, but anything was better than being caught with an at-home pregnancy kit.
Acting as if nothing was unusual, she turned and carried the large, hot pink package of pads to the registers, getting into the line with only one woman in it. As it turned out, the pads she’d chosen were some kind of supersized, mega-absorbent, recommended-for-elephant-use sort of product. And when she got to the cash register, she realized that a guy about her age was the cashier.
Avoiding his eyes, she shoved the enormous package toward him, and with heat racing up her neck, she fumbled in her wallet for the right amount of cash. What were the chances of a robbery just then? A masked man could burst into the drugstore and just shoot her. Of course, with her luck, the morning paper would read Teenage Girl Found Dead with Maxi Pads Clasped in Her Arms.
Sophie heard the girls laughing as she made her way out of the store. They were probably just laughing for the sake of laughing. That’s what girls her age did. But it sure felt as if they were laughing at her, as if they had known what she’d been up to, as if they could read her like a book.
She threw the detestable Walgreen’s bag into the backseat and started her car again. Maybe she should just give up this fool’s errand. Maybe being the queen of denial wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Maybe her suspicions were totally wrong. Seriously, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d been wrong about something, now would it?
She drove across town, considering the possibilities. She could just continue like she’d been doing—telling herself that she was delusional, that no way was she pregnant. Seriously, she’d only done it once . . . okay, twice. But that was only if you counted the first time, which didn’t actually even seem like the real thing. Or maybe it was just because it had been so painful.
“I’m sorry,” Dylan had told her afterward. “Are you okay?” She hadn’t known what to say, what to do. It was all so awkward, so unexpected and messy. She wasn’t totally sure what had happened or how, only that it had hurt
, and that she had told him to stop. But he hadn’t seemed to hear her. Maybe that was her fault. Maybe it was all her fault. Maybe she’d given Dylan the impression that she was that kind of a girl—experienced. Or maybe she’d been like those girls Dylan’s mother had been complaining about—the ones who chased him relentlessly. And then she had caught him, even if only temporarily.
Sophie parked in front of a Wal-Mart now. But with a fairly full parking lot and teens milling about, it seemed even riskier than Walgreen’s. Plus, there was Staples—and her mom’s car— just across the street.
Finally Sophie decided to drive to the next town, just ten minutes away. She would locate a small drugstore, go straight inside, and look around, and if the coast was clear, she would snatch up an E.P.T. box and head straight for the checkout. In and out. Just like that.
As she drove down the freeway, she considered the possibility of buying a pregnancy test online. She was sure that could be done. Except for two major obstacles: (1) the package would be delivered to her house, and who knew how obvious it might look, and (2) she would probably need a credit card to buy it. Besides that, she would have to wait. And now, especially after losing her lunch in the cafeteria today, she wanted to know.
The more she thought about it, the more certain she felt that Dylan had to have been right when he’d assured her afterward that “no one gets pregnant the first time.” Okay, that didn’t absolve the second time. But Dylan had brought protection that time. Who would’ve expected that the condom would rip? Or that he’d have only one? Or that she’d even have been in such a position to start with? Really, how had it happened?
“I love you,” he’d told her each time he’d held her close. For the first week, they had met whenever they could, sometimes sneaking out of their cabins after the kids had fallen asleep, and all they did was talk and kiss and talk and kiss. By the second week, Dylan’s hands were wandering. But she wasn’t stopping him.
He had called her “beautiful, intoxicating, lovely, sumptuous.” And hook, line, and sinker, she had bit into it. He’d told her she was “the one” and they were meant for each other, meant to be together. She had assumed that he meant forever. Hadn’t he said as much?
It was nearly seven when she pulled up to a run-down-looking drugstore on Main Street. Fortunately it was open, but just barely—about half the lights were already turned off.
“We close at seven,” a frumpy clerk said to her. “Better make it quick.”
“I will,” Sophie called back. The store was small, and it didn’t take long to find the right section. But there was only one kind of pregnancy kit there, and it looked dusty and old. She wondered if it was even any good.
“Are you coming?” the clerk called.
Sophie grabbed the box and jogged to the checkout.
“Oh.” The woman peered over her reading glasses to examine Sophie more closely. Was she going to ask for ID? The woman just shook her head and rang up the kit.
“It’s for my older sister,” Sophie said, shoving the twenty toward her.
“Yeah, right.” The woman cackled as she took the bill and then counted out the change. “Never heard that one before.” Sophie dumped the change into her purse and waited.