Senior year high school, October
Most stories start at the beginning. But not this one. This one starts at the end. Or, at least, what I thought was the end—of my life, my dreams, my future. I thought it was all over because of two words.
Two words. Two little blue lines.
My stomach free falls and my knees lose their will. My green Sunshine High School football jersey clings to my torso, stained with dark sweat spots under the pits—and it’s got nothing to do with the Mississippi sun. I take the stick from Jenny’s hand and shake it, hoping one blue line will disappear.
But even at seventeen, my debate skills are sharp. I offer a counterargument—an explanation. Reasonable doubt.
“Maybe you did it wrong? Or maybe it’s defective? We should get another one.”
Jenny sniffs as tears gather in her baby blues. “I’ve been gettin’ sick every mornin’ for the last week, Stanton. I haven’t had my period in two months. It’s positive.” She wipes at her cheeks and raises her chin. “I’m not stealin’ another test from Mr. Hawkin’s store to tell us what we already know.”
When you live in a small town—particularly a small southern town—everybody knows everybody. They know your granddaddy, your momma, your wild big brother and sweet baby sister; they know all about your uncle who got locked up in the federal penitentiary and the cousin who was never quite right after that unfortunate tractor incident. Small towns make it too awkward to get condoms, too hard to go on birth control pills, and impossible to buy a pregnancy test.
Unless you want your parents to hear all about it before your girl even has time to piss on the stick.
Jenny wraps her arms around her waist with trembling hands. As scared shitless as I am, I know it’s nothing compared to what she’s feeling. And that’s on me. I did this—my eagerness, my horniness. Fucking stupidity.
People can say what they want about feminism and equality and that’s all fine and good. But I was raised on the idea that men are protectors. Where the buck stops. The ones who go down with the ship. So the fact that my girl is “in trouble” is no one’s fault but mine.
“Hey, c’mere.” I pull her small body against my chest, holding her tight. “It’s gonna be okay. Everything’s gonna be all right.”
Her shoulders shake as she weeps. “I’m so sorry, Stanton.”
I met Jenny Monroe in the first grade. I put a toad in her backpack because my brother dared me to. For two months she shot spitballs at the back of my head in retribution. In third grade I thought I was in love with her—by sixth grade I was sure of it. She was beautiful, funny, and she could throw a football better than any girl—and half the boys—I knew. We broke up in eighth grade when Tara-Mae Forrester offered to let me touch her boobs.
And I did.
We got back together that next summer, when I won her a bear at the county fair.
She’s more than just my first kiss—my first everything. Jenny’s my best friend. And I’m hers.
I rear back so I can look into her eyes. I touch her face and stroke her silky blond hair. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You didn’t do this by yourself.” I wiggle my eyebrows and grin. “I was there too, remember?”
That makes her laugh. She swipes a finger under both eyes. “Yeah, it was a good night.”
I cup her cheek. “Sure was.”
It wasn’t our first time—or our tenth—but it was one of the best. The kind of night you never forget—a full moon and a flannel blanket. Just a few feet from where we are right now—next to the river with a six-pack of beer kicked and music floating out of the open windows of my pickup. It was all soft kisses, hot whispers, sweaty bodies, and grasping hands. Joined so deep I couldn’t tell where I ended and she began. Pleasure so intense I wanted it to last forever—and prayed out loud that it would.
We would’ve thought about it—tried to relive it—years from now, even if we weren’t having a baby to commemorate it.
Fuck me. As the reality truly starts to set in, my stomach drops all the way to China.
Like a mind reader, Jenny asks, “What are we gonna do?”
My father always told me being scared was nothing to be ashamed of. It was how you reacted to that fear that mattered. Cowards run. Men step up.
And I’m no coward.
I swallow roughly, and all my aspirations, hopes, and plans for leaving this town get swallowed too. I look out over the river, watching the sun sparkle off the water, and make the only choice I can.
“We’re gettin’ married. We’ll stay with my parents at first. I’ll work on the farm, go to night school—we’ll save up. You’ll have to put off nursin’ school for a little while. Eventually we’ll get our own place. I’ll take care of you.” I put my hand on her still-flat stomach. “Both of you.”
Her reaction isn’t what I imagine.
Jenny steps back out of my arms, eyes wide and head shaking. “What? No! No, you’re supposed to leave for New York right after graduation.”
“You gave up your Ole Miss football scholarship to go to Columbia. It’s Ivy League.”
I shake my head. And lie.
“Jenn, none of that matters now.”
There’s not a single guy in this town who wouldn’t give his eye teeth to play ball at Ole Miss . . . but not me. I’ve always wanted different—bigger, brighter, farther.