Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chapter 3: The Reluctant Knight

I drive home in a kind of stupor, the mantra “I’m pregnant” streaming through my mind. I am on autopilot at this point. Some part of my body is willing itself to get back to my apartment and crawl under the covers. When I reach the parking lot, I snap out of my trance and my brain starts humming. I have to call Nathan, right away. I can’t tell my parents, not yet. I need to plan.

I rush up the three flights of stairs to my apartment and struggle with the key in the lock. Fatso, my cat, runs at the sound of the key and tangles himself between my feet as I rush in from the hallway. Shoving him down the hall to many protesting mews, I throw my purse down onto the sofa bed in the living room and grab the phone.

My heart is hammering, and the apartment seems eerily quiet. What am I going to say? Should I tell Nathan on the phone? Maybe I should tell him I have to talk to him about something in person and I need for him to drive the three hours from home tonight. I hate the thought of withholding the information, and I know he would badger me until I tell him anyway. Better to just tell him over the phone and see how he reacts. But I really want him to be here with me when I tell him. I am feeling much more upset than I imagined I would when the pregnancy was a hypothetical scenario.

I dial Nathan’s number so fast that I make a mistake. The operator comes on saying, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up…” Shit. I try again. This time there is ringing from the other side of the communications universe. Ringing, and more ringing. Damn it, Nathan, pick up. I glance at the clock, five fifteen. He is probably at work.

I call the restaurant where Nathan works and hear the perky voice of one of the waitresses on the other end. The one who answers is named Bethany.

“Frederick’s, how may I help you.” She chirps.

“Yeah, hi, is Nathan there?” I ask.

“Hold on.” Her chipper tone drops immediately and I can hear her walking away from the phone, calling out, “Anyone seen Nathan, is he here yet?” Mumblings in the background blend with the syncopated pop music playing over the restaurant’s loud system. I can hear Bethany’s laughter approaching the phone, and then her tone changes to indifference again.

“Um, nope, he’s not here yet. Should be here soon. You want to leave a message?” she asks.

“Yeah, sure. Could you tell him that his girlfriend called and it’s really very important that he calls me back right when he arrives? Thanks.”

“Yep, call his girlfriend. Hey, I didn’t know Nathan had a girlfriend. How long you guy’s been going out?” she asks incredulously.

“Um, about a year…could you please just tell him to call me? I’m down at school.” I ask again.

“Sure, sure.” She says, hanging up the phone.

I sit down on the couch and imagine what I am going to say to Nathan when he calls.

Hi honey, you know that night a few weeks ago when you were visiting and that condom broke? Well, guess what!

No, it’s serious, I can’t joke around about it. I can feel the sizzling peptic acid in my stomach as the muscles twist into tight knots.

Hi, Nathan, I’ve got something important to talk to you about and I need you to be here with me tonight. I’m pregnant.

Gurgling noises emit from my gut.

Nathan, I’m pregnant.

That’s direct and to the point. A long sloshing sigh rises from my intestines. I lay down and close my eyes.

Noises rise from the haze of my unconsciousness: car doors, voices, and laughter; a knocking at the door of the apartment downstairs. Groggily, I sit up and peer into the evening darkness that envelops the living room. My stomach rumbles, and I jolt into awareness. What time is it! Jumping off the couch, I check the clock over the stove…almost eight thirty. Did I sleep through Nathan’s return call? The message light is not blinking on the answering machine. He hasn’t called.

New insecurities arise in my mind, like why didn’t he call when I said it was important to do so. I don’t make a habit of calling him at work. Maybe he didn’t get the message. Maybe that ditz on the phone didn’t write it down and then became busy and forgot.

I pick up the phone and glance at my phone book for Nathan’s work number. Punching in the numbers, I notice that I’m not breathing very deeply and that I need to inhale. The first thing I hear is a grating pop beat.

“Frederick’s, how can I help you?” It’s a man’s tinny voice this time. I can imagine him with a pencil thin mustache and slicked back hair.

“Yes, is Nathan there?”

“He’s waiting tables right now, can I take a message?” I consider leaving one again, but don’t.

“No, it’s very important. I’ll wait,” I tell him.

“’K. It’ll be a minute,” he says, putting me on hold.

The phone relays an advertisement about two for one hot wings on Wednesday nights. It then loops into “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”. Just as I am becoming mesmerized by Jerry Lewis’ peppy rhythm, a new voice breaks in.

“This is Nathan,” he says quickly.

“Nathan, it’s me. Hi.” Now that he is on the phone, I’m at a loss.

“Hi there,” he says, “it’s good to hear from you, but we’re really slammed right now. Sherry called in sick and I’m working half of her tables. Can I call you back?”

“Did you get my message from before,” I ask meekly.

“No, what message?” He sounds sincere. I knew that bitch wasn’t reliable.

“I left a message saying it was important.”

This is not how I had imagined telling him, in the middle of a busy shift at work; but I need to see him so badly right now, to have him hold me and tell me it will be alright, to know what he wants to do.

“OK, what’s up,” he asks, sounding a bit miffed.

“It’s really serious, I hate to tell you right now,” I say.

“Well, I can call you back later or tomorrow because I don’t get off until one,” he suggests, sounding hopeful. I can hear a low baratone voice calling his name from a few feet away.

“No, can you have someone take your shift for a minute and go to a phone in the back,” I ask him.

He must have heard the pleading tone in my voice because he says, “Well, we’re really busy right now, but hang on.” I can hear him speaking to someone nearby.

“OK, hang on a minute, I’m switching to Tyrell’s office in the back.” He puts me on hold, left to the endless loop of hot wings and Jerry Lewis again.

“Hey, back,” he says. “Now what’s so important? Are you okay? What’s the emergency?” Now he sounds more like himself, more concerned and relaxed, ready to tackle any situation.

“I’m pregnant.” I say it with firmness and conviction. It feels good to say it, feels like the truth.

He says nothing for a long moment; stagnant silence hangs between us over the landline.

“Nathan…hello,” I say softly.

“Yeah,” he says, “still here.”

“Um, did you hear me, I said I’m pregnant?”

I don’t know what else to say, he isn’t responding and that doesn’t seem like a good sign. My mind suddenly shifts into planning overdrive. Nathan wants nothing to do with me, I will have to get a handle on this thing by myself, tell my parents in a couple of weeks after I visit the doctor and make sure the pregnancy sticks.

“I heard you.” Nathan’s voice rips into my thoughts. “Are you sure? I mean, how can you…how do you know for sure?

“I went to the Women’s Center and took a test.”

“By yourself,” he mutters, his words trailing away as he speaks.

“Yeah, I really need you down here tonight. We need to talk about this. I need you.” I know I sound whinny, hate to sound that way, but I’m terrified.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll talk to Tyrell. It may be a little while, but I’ll come down as soon as I can get off from work.”

“Try to get off soon,” my voice hitches in my throat, “I just need…”

“Yeah, as soon as I can get off, I promise.” He hangs up the phone and I stand staring at the receiver in my hand.

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