Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Nine

After We Fell


chapter

one hundred and twenty-nine

 

TESSA

 

On Monday morning I arrive for my appointment half an hour early and take a seat in one of the mass-produced, blue-checkered chairs in the waiting room, which, I can’t help but notice, is nearly full, crying children and coughing women crowding the space. I try to keep myself occupied by flipping through a magazine, but the only one available is a parenting journal, full of diaper ads and “revolutionary” breast-feeding tips.

    “Young? Theresa Young?” An elderly woman calls my name as she looks up from a clipboard. I stand quickly, sidestepping a toddler who’s scooting around on the floor with a toy truck in his hand. The truck rolls over my shoe, and he giggles. I smile down at him, earning an adorable grin in return.

    “How far along are you?” a woman, the boy’s mother, I assume, asks. Her eyes dart to my stomach, and I instinctively place my hand on it.

    An uncomfortable laugh escapes. “Oh! I’m not . . .”

    “I’m sorry!” She flushes. “I just assumed, you don’t look it . . . I just thought . . .” The fact that she’s as uncomfortable as I am makes me feel lighter. Asking a woman how far along she is never ends well, especially when she isn’t pregnant. The woman laughs. “Well, now you know for future reference when you’re a mother yourself . . . the filter disappears!”

    I don’t allow my mind to go there; I don’t have time to ponder the future and the fact that if I want a life with Hardin, I’ll never be a mother. I’ll never have an adorable toddler running a toy truck over my shoes or climbing onto my lap. I turn back to look at him one last time.

    I smile politely and make my way to the nurse, who immediately hands me a small cup and instructs me to go to the restroom down the hall to complete the pregnancy test. Despite my period, I’m battling nerves at the idea. Hardin and I have been so careless lately, and the last thing we need is an unplanned pregnancy. It would push him over the edge. It could completely upend everything I want to do with my life, to have a baby now.

    When I hand the full cup back to the nurse, she guides me into an empty room and wraps a blood-pressure cuff around my arm. “Uncross your legs, dear,” she sweetly instructs, and I do as I’m told. After taking my temperature, the woman disappears, and a few minutes later I hear a knock on the door, and a distinguished-looking middle-aged man with mostly gray hair enters. He removes a pair of thick glasses and reaches a hand out to me.

    “Dr. West. It’s nice to meet you, Theresa,” he introduces himself amiably. I was hoping for a female doctor, but he seems nice enough. I do wish he was less attractive, though; it would make things less awkward for me during this already uncomfortable experience.

    Dr. West asks a lot of questions, most of which are absolutely horrifying. I have to tell him about Hardin and me having unprotected sex—on more than one occasion—during which I force myself to maintain eye contact with him. Halfway through the embarrassing ordeal, the nurse returns and places a piece of paper on top of the desk. Dr. West glances at it, and I hold my breath until he speaks.

    He gives me a warm smile. “Well, you’re not pregnant, so now we can begin.”

    And I let out the deep breath I didn’t realize I was even holding.

    He reels off many options, some of which I’ve never even heard of, before we settle on the shot.

    “Before I give you the shot, I’ll need to do a brief pelvic exam; is that okay?”

    I nod and swallow my nervousness. I don’t know why I’m so uncomfortable; he’s only a doctor, and I’m an adult. I should have scheduled this appointment for after my period. I didn’t think about the actual exam when I called for the appointment. I only wanted Hardin off my back.

 

“ALMOST FINISHED,” Dr. West announces. The exam is proving to be quick and not nearly as awkward as I assumed it would be, which is a blessing.

    He pops up, a deep line forming across his forehead. “Have you had a pelvic exam before?”

    “No, I don’t think so,” I answer quietly. I know I haven’t, but the last part of my response was a nervous add-on. My eyes turn to the screen in front of him, and he moves the probe around the bottom of my belly, across my pelvis.

    “Hmm,” he says to himself. My unease grows—was the test wrong, and there really is a baby in there after all? I begin to panic. I’m too young, and I haven’t finished college, and Hardin and I are in such an in-between place and—

    “I’m a little concerned about the size of your cervix,” he finally says. “It’s nothing to worry about at the moment, but I’d like to see you again to do further testing.”

    “ ‘Nothing to worry about’?” My mouth is dry, and my stomach is in knots. My palms start sweating. “What does that mean?”

    “Nothing as of now . . . I can’t be sure,” he says—in a very unconvincing tone.

    I pull myself up, pushing the gown back down. “What could it mean?”

    “Well . . .” Dr. West pushes his thick glasses back up his nose. “Worst case would be infertility, but without further testing, there’s no way to know just from this exam. I don’t see any cysts, and that’s a really good sign.” He gestures to the screen.

    My heart drops onto the cold tile floor. “What . . . what are the chances?” I can’t hear my own voice or thoughts.

    “I can’t say. This isn’t a diagnosis, Miss Young. What I mentioned is the worst-case scenario; please don’t fret over it until we get some testing done. I want to go ahead with your shot today, get some blood drawn for some tests, and schedule a follow-up.” After a moment he adds, “Okay?”

    I nod, unable to speak. I just heard him say it wasn’t a diagnosis, but it sure feels like one. I felt the dreadful, empty flutter of my nerves crawling up my spine at the first mention of a problem. Only the hammering of my heart can be heard in the quiet room. I’m sulking, and I know it, but I don’t care.

    “This happens all the time; don’t trouble yourself over it. We’ll clear it up; it’s nothing, I’m sure,” he says rather stiffly, and then exits the room, leaving me to deal with the cruel, sharp edges of the situation on my own. He isn’t sure, nothing is certain; he seems fairly blasé about it—so why can’t I shake the anxiety gnawing at me?

    I’m given the birth-control shot by the nurse, who has suddenly turned into a mother hen, talking about her grandchildren and their love of her homemade cookies. I stay quiet mostly, only speaking enough to be polite. I feel nauseous.

    She gives me a thorough briefing about my new contraceptive, going over the pros and cons that I’ve already heard from Dr. West. I’m thrilled to not have to deal with a period anymore, slightly concerned over the weight gain, but figure it’s an even trade.

    She tells me that since I’m on my period now, the shot will be effective immediately, but to wait three days to have unprotected sex, just to be safe. Then she reminds me that this won’t protect me from STDs, only pregnancy.

    After scheduling the dreaded follow-up appointment, I head straight downtown to take my passport photo and finalize the paperwork. Of course, it has already been paid for by Mr. Vance. I cringe at the amount of money everyone around me seems to have no problem spending on me.

    Every single person I pass on the street seems to be pregnant or carrying a child in their arms. I shouldn’t have pressed the doctor for information; now I’m going to be paranoid until my follow-up, which of course isn’t for another three weeks. Three weeks to drive myself mad, three weeks to obsess over the chance that I might not be able to get pregnant. I don’t know why the idea is so painful; I thought I had somewhat come to terms with the idea of not having children. I can’t mention this to Hardin yet, not until I know for sure. Not that it will make a difference to his plans anyway.

    I text Hardin when I get back to my car, telling him that my appointment went well, and head back to Christian and Kimberly’s house. By the time I arrive, I’ve convinced myself that I’ll spend the week avoiding the topic. There’s no reason to worry myself when Dr. West assured me that nothing was definite at this point. The hollowness in my chest says otherwise, but I have to ignore it and move on for now. I’m going to England. For the first time in my life, I’m going to be traveling outside of the state of Washington, and I couldn’t be more excited. Nervous, but excited.