(Two chapters today because, well, it’s the weekend!)
The fluorescent lights overhead felt brighter as I walked down the hall the next morning. Like they were illuminating the thing I was trying hardest not to think about—illuminating it for everyone else to see.
When I’d gotten back to my room last night, Samantha had waited for the lights to go down like she usually did. But this time, instead of asking about Drake, she asked if everything was okay with me.
“Is everything okay? After you left, they called Collin away,” she said.
Well at least it seemed like they’d called John away after dinner, so the others hadn’t seen that he’d been added to the party.
“It was nothing,” I found myself saying automatically. “Cici felt like visiting with him too. Those nurses must like her a lot—they’ll do anything for her.”
I heard Sam laugh very quietly to herself. “I believe that.”
We hadn’t said anything more to one another, and I’d been more than happy not to discuss the real reason Collin had been called to Cecelia’s room; I wasn’t ready for people to know—I hadn’t even wrapped my mind around it yet.
But now, as I walked down this hallway, it felt as though there was no way I could hide it. There was no possible way people wouldn’t notice. It felt as though it were written on my skin, across my forehead: I’m pregnant.
I followed the line of girls to the locker room, dreading but also welcoming the day’s routine. Routine seemed good—just keep living the same as I had done yesterday morning, before I’d known what I knew now. If I did that, then it couldn’t be true that everything in the entire world was different now. Because right now it felt as though everything in the entire world wasn’t the same than it had been yesterday. Different, and horribly identical as it had all been 24 hours ago.
I went to pull my shirt up over my head, but then thought twice: what if people could tell? What if my belly already showed telltale signs? I turned toward the wall to finish changing.
Tying the drawstrings on today’s scrubs—identical to those I’d warn yesterday and just discarded—I turned around to find a brunette-haired girl dressed in nurse’s scrubs looking at me expectantly.
“It’s Ferris,” I replied automatically.
She smiled. “Ferris then. We have an appointment set aside for you this morning.”
I looked around surreptitiously, only to see that everyone was looking at me but trying to appear as though they weren’t. All around, activity had slowed to allow for listening.
“Uh, yeah, okay.” I shoved my feet into my shoes and crossed over to the nurse, who handcuffed my wrists in front of me. Then I followed her from the room.
She led me down the hall, toward the part of the building Cici stayed in, where the rooms weren’t prison cells but hospital rooms. When she held a door open for me, I crossed the threshold to find myself in a room like you’d find at a doctor’s office. There was a bed of sorts, complete with paper running down the length. Plus a counter and sink, with cabinets above and below. A stool with casters for feet.
It wasn’t hard to guess why I was here. And, I guess, if I thought about it, it was probably smart that I see a doctor. That didn’t mean I particularly wanted to. I hated going to the doctor already, and this was like, ten times worse, if only because of where I was, both literally and figuratively.
The nurse motioned me over to the bed. The paper crackled as I sat on the edge. When she came at me with a stethoscope, I sat still and let her listen to my heart. Then she took my pulse, my blood pressure, making notes on a chart after each step. She had me hop down off the bed so she could get my weight, which she jotted down like the rest of it.
“Okay, the doctor will be in in a few minutes,” she told me, then her smile turned apologetic. “Sorry, I have to cuff your hands behind you since I’m leaving you in the room.”
Biting down on a bitter sigh, I held my hands out to her. She sprung the latch and refastened it again once I’d put my hands behind my back. I hated the sensation of those handcuffs clamping down around my wrists. No matter how many times they did it, it sent a claustrophobic shutter up my spine.
Jesus, what was I doing here? Being detained by the U.S. government was crazy enough, but to be… pregnant while I was at it… Ugh, it was hard to even think that word. I was pregnant?
As the nurse made her exit, I looked down at my flat stomach. I guess I could kiss that particular feature goodbye.
Collin’s words from last night, the whole experience ran through my head: “I mean—whatever you want. If you want to… get rid of it… I’m fine with that too. Or adoption… whatever you want.”
Yeah, I had no idea what I wanted. I mean, the big A was probably the smart thing to do. I was solidly Pro-Choice, after all. I had no moral or ethical issues with it. But then… God, something about that just didn’t feel good. Logically, it felt right. My brain said “yes, let’s do that.” But my heart squirmed. That didn’t mean it was the wrong decision, though, right? Just a hard decision.
Of course it was a hard decision.
I groaned and flopped back onto the bed, sending the paper on the mattress crackling in my ears and pinning my cuffed wrists behind me in the process. It was less than comfortable.
When the doctor came in, she found me staring at the fluorescent light in the ceiling, trying my best to think of nothing at all in the hopes that some sort of divine inspiration would suddenly appear and make this decision simpler—or better yet, make it for me.
I turned my attention from the light to the doctor. “It’s Ferris.”
“Ah, I see that here.”
I managed to sit myself back up, my cuffed hands of no use in the process, as the doctor crossed the room and took a seat on the wheeled stool.
“So, I hear congratulations are in order,” she said.
I grimaced. “Yeah, I guess so.”
She flipped through her charts and looked at me up over the top of them. “You’re pretty young. You think you’re ready for this?”
“No,” came my automatic reaction.
“So wasn’t the plan, I gather.”
She smiled, laying the charts in her lap. “Okay, that makes a little more sense. Well, I’m going to ask you a few questions, and then I’d like to do an ultrasound, if that’s okay with you.”
I just shrugged.
Ten minutes later, she knew damn near everything about me, from when I’d had my last period to the fact that one of my grandmothers had died of cancer. Now the cuffs were off, the lights were low, and I was lying on my back with my top hiked up and goo on my stomach. Either this was the ultrasound part of the appointment, or it was some sort of really weird foreplay.
I flinched automatically when the doctor lowered a thing that looked like a vacuum attachment to my belly, even though I didn’t expect it to hurt. She moved it around for a while, pushing it this way and that. Then she stopped.
“It’s pretty quiet,” she said. “It’s a fast rhythm among all the whirring sound—do you hear it?”
But then I did. And then it was all I could hear. “What is that?”
“That’s the baby’s heartbeat.” Then she turned the screen toward me.
It didn’t look like a baby, not really, but I could see that heart beating in time with the sound. I was pretty sure my heart had stopped beating all together, so it was good that that little one kept going. Maybe it could keep us both alive until I could regain my pulse.
“I’d like you to sit out the morning workouts, if that’s alright with you,” the doctor was saying. “I’ll make sure the guards know. Maybe they could let you use the library or something. We’ll figure that out.”
I looked up from the picture the doctor had printed from the ultrasound machine. Black and white and grainy—and mind boggling. “Could I sit with Cecelia?”
“Yeah. I want to sit with Cecelia in the mornings.”
She thought on that for a second, then shrugged with a nod. “Yeah, I don’t see why not. Assuming she’s up for it, of course. There might be some mornings when she can’t have visitors, but otherwise, she’d probably like that.”
I nodded and found myself staring at the picture in my hands again.
“Why don’t I go ahead and take you there now?” the doctor prompted when I didn’t say anything. “There’s still 30 minutes left in the morning workout. I’ll have a guard come get you when it’s time for class, and I’ll let him know the plan while I’m at it.”
“Okay, yeah.” I got down off the table.
“I have to cuff you again,” she said, “but I can keep your hands in front of you, if you’d like to keep the picture in sight.”
I drew a breath, about to tell her that it was fine, but at the last minute, I recognized her kindness for what it was and, grateful, I nodded. Then I clasped my hands and held them out in front of me, the picture held tight in one fist.
“You don’t have a whole lot of time to figure out what you want to do,” the doctor said as we walked down the empty corridor to Cecelia’s room. “If you want to terminate that is. We have the equipment here if you decide you’d like to do that within the next couple of weeks. Or, if you’re thinking of adoption, I’m sure there is a very nice couple out there who would be willing to adopt a shifter.”
Cecelia was sleeping when the doctor delivered me to her room, propped against pillows so she was sleeping sitting up. I told the doctor I didn’t mind—that I’d sit until she woke up, or until the guards came to get me, whichever came first. Sitting in Cecelia’s quiet room, I was sort of glad she was asleep. The almost-solitude was exactly what I needed. It was rare to be alone in this place.
I sat in silence for a time, but when my thoughts got too loud, I found that talking was better than silence.
“I went to the doctor today,” I said quietly to Cecelia, still sleeping peacefully. “She was nice, I guess.”
I hadn’t really heard the full meaning behind what the doctor had said as we’d walked down the hall until after I had nodded like I agreed with the thought.
“I’m sure there is a very nice couple out there who would be willing to adopt a shifter.”
It was all for the best because I didn’t think she’d intended it to come off that way, but her intention wasn’t the point.
“They gave me an ultrasound,” I went on. “It was weird.”
The point wasn’t even the fact that one day, when we all got out here—and I had to believe we would—there was little chance that shifter couples would be allowed to adopt a baby. Which meant this baby would live with a human family—even though there was little to no chance this baby would turn seventeen and not become one of us.
But no, while important, that wasn’t the point.
I looked down at the black and white picture in my hands. My throat ached. “They gave me a picture from the ultrasound.”
“I’m gonna be a Dad?”
I could hear Collin in my head; see the look of sheer happiness that had been on his face—pure wonder.
“Of the baby,” I said, trying the word on for size.
Part of me was in this picture—in this baby. And so was part of Collin.
And I was head-over-heels, crazy, be-with-only-him-forever in love with Collin. I had been for weeks. Maybe months.
So the point wasn’t whether the doctor was a bitch, or who would be allowed to adopt when this was over.
The point was that I didn’t want anybody else to have this baby. Human, or shifter, or otherwise.
Tears rolled down my face. But before any of them could fall onto the picture, I crossed my arms in front of me, protecting it, leaned onto the edge of Cecelia’s hospital bed, buried my face in my arms and sobbed.
“What am I gonna do?” I whispered through the sobs. But it wasn’t the same question as I’d been asking myself before. It wasn’t ‘what am I going to do about this?’ Now the question was ‘how am I going to do this?’ Because I had no idea.
Cecelia’s soft voice pulled my head up from my arms. I wiped my eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“I’ve been awake,” she sighed, “just stuck. It happens sometimes lately.”
I sat back, thinking over what I had said and decided, counting the words, the weight, the meaning.
“Can I see the picture?” she asked, her voice quiet.
“Uh, yeah, sure.” I handed it to her.
She took it from me and held it close so she could see it, smiling all the while. Her eyes were so tired, red around the edges. Her hands shook though it seemed like she was trying to hide it. She studied the picture for a moment, then looked at me again, her smile spreading.
“No way to know what she’ll look like yet, but cute is safe to assume,” she said as she handed the square slip of slick paper back to me.
I tried to laugh but it came out weak and pathetic.
“I have a good feeling about it,” Cecelia said after sitting and staring at me for a second. “Just like I had about John and Teresa when they were pregnant with Collin.”
I felt my brows furrow. “You knew John and Teresa before they had Collin?”
She laughed weakly as she let her head rest back against her pillows. “I did. I’d known John for years by then.”
I just sat and stared at her for a moment. At her greyed hair, the dark hollowness beneath her eyes, her cheekbones. She tucked her hands beneath the blankets when my eyes fell to her shaking fingers.
“You can’t leave,” I found myself saying, staring into her eyes. “You’re leaving here, aren’t you?”
She smiled quietly, then lifted her head and pushed herself up further on her propped pillows. “While you’re here, would you mind helping me with something?” She turned and reached for the cart of a table that sat beside the bed. Then she took the red spiral bound notebook that had been sitting on top of it and handed it to me. “I’m writing a letter—“
A guard announced his arrival with a bang on the door before stalking through the frame and pulling the curtain in front of it aside. The guard ticked his head at me. “You—time to go.”
I looked to Cecelia with a sigh and held up my cuffed wrists. “I’m cuffed anyway—makes it hard to write. I’ll be back tomorrow though,” I said. “They won’t let me workout anymore.”
Cecelia smiled with more life this time. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
I nodded as the guard led me from the room.