He was trying to figure me out. His eyes were flickering, taking it all in. He wasn’t sure whether to smile or not but in the end, the corner of his mouth won.
“I can’t do that,” he teased.
“But you have to,” I pleaded in my lightest tone of voice. “You said during the hockey game…if you were dared. This is your dare.”
“It’s kind of inappropriate.”
Actually it was perfectly appropriate when you took in everything I had just said.
“Whatever,” I said. “You have to take truth then.”
I tried not to look as rejected and pathetic as I felt with him turning me down, and kept that flirty smile on my face. He leaned in a little closer. Our eyes locked but I didn’t want to give anything away. I hoped that being drunk was preventing him from reading me.
I think it worked because he leaned back slightly and said, “OK, give me truth then.”
I wanted the truth to be something he couldn’t back out of. Something he had to answer, inappropriate or not, something I really wanted to know. I had just the question.
“What was that phone call about? The one you got at the hockey game that you freaked out on and ran away. Who called you? What did they say?”
From the way his shoulders sunk like I had placed some giant, invisible weight on them, to the way his eyes went blank, I knew I had asked the right question. It was something he would have never answered in a million years and now he had to. Or at least, I hoped he had to. I couldn’t force Dex to do anything but I hoped this time I wouldn’t have to.
I let him bide his time, let him suck on his full lower lip, let his eyes try and to stay hidden by blasé and the shadows. I let him feel the booze work through his veins, hoping that it would take his guard down a few notches like it had done with me. I let him decide what to do next.
He answered. He tried to appear casual about it but he said, “Jennifer is pregnant.”
And with those words, my whole world came crashing down.
I couldn’t believe what had come out of Dex’s mouth. Jennifer was pregnant?
“Jennifer is what?” I squeaked. “Pregnant? Your Jennifer?”
He nodded somberly, his face as blank as possible.
Mine wasn’t. I was unable to hide my emotions, even though I wasn’t really sure what my emotions were. This hit me like a pile of bricks had dropped off the top of a building. I was floored. I was flattened. Jennifer was pregnant. His girlfriend was pregnant with his baby.
Wait, maybe it wasn’t his baby. The thought relieved me for a second.
“With your baby?” I asked to make sure.
“Yeah. My…mine,” he said awkwardly.
Fuck. Shit. Obviously this was all about Dex, this was Dex’s problem (or not problem), but I couldn’t wrap my head around it, about the way it was affecting me. He might has as well have told me they were getting married. My heart lurched again at that thought, more horrifying and defeating than the one before. It felt like I had a fish hook through my guts.
I needed to pull it together. I needed to stop staring at him with what I was sure was a pained expression. There he was, telling me something he didn’t want me to know, something life–altering, life–halting (to me, anyway) and I was so engrossed in my own feelings I couldn’t take a moment to ask what this meant to him.
What did I say? I’m sorry? I looked at his face and got nothing from it. He was as serious as he ever was, but I couldn’t gather whether this was a joyous occasion or not.
So I just said, “Oh. Wow.”
“Yeah,” he said with a sigh and reached for the Jack Daniels.
“When did you find out?” I asked.
“Just last night. During the hockey game. Actually she had been suspecting she was. Missed her period last week. We thought maybe it was just stress because she travels so much for the show. That can fuck women up or something. She’s on birth control, so it didn’t seem possible. I mean, how the fuck is that fucking possible?”
“So…she thought she was pregnant…and she told you this?”
“Yeah, a few days ago.”
“And you still came out here to the island?”
He didn’t look vaguely bothered by that. “Yeah. It’s work. Like I said, we thought it was just stress. She took a test yesterday. It was positive. That’s when she called me.”
No wonder he was so upset during the game. Wait a minute….
“So, she calls you and tells you she’s pregnant. And then you celebrate by dragging me off to a bloody strip club?!”
He did look sheepish at that. He tried to shrug but it seemed the weight on his shoulders was too much.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said feebly.
“I know what you don’t do,” I said, pointing at him. “You don’t go to a fucking strip club and buy your girl partner a lap dance when you know your girlfriend just found out she’s pregnant!”
As much as I hated Jenn, Dex was acting like a royal douchebag. My mind kept rolling back the reel of last night, looking for signs that Dex was dealing adversely with something so huge as finding out his girlfriend was pregnant. I couldn’t find anything except his damn perversions and borderline sleaziness.
“Yuck, Dex. Yuck,” I said again for emphasis, leaning back in my seat and staring him down like some disapproving mother figure.
Dex didn’t say anything. He looked chagrined but it was wearing off as he gazed at the bottle, like he was trying to Jean Grey it into a ball of fire or something. I didn’t even know if he was listening to me. I guess it didn’t matter. He must have known he didn’t handle it very well.
Not that I would have handled it well, had I been in his situation. Only I wouldn’t have been able to drink the problem away.
He wasn’t saying anything so I reached across the table and put my hand lightly on top of his. Just for a moment. He jumped and slowly moved his eyes over to meet mine.
“So, is this good news or bad news?” I asked as compassionately as possible. I wanted to be supportive for him, no matter what my own feelings were. It was no small thing to ask of myself but Dex, despite his actions the night before, deserved it. At least, I was going to try.
He chuckled wryly, shaking his head. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know, Dex. I really don’t.”
He sighed and reached for the bottle. He took a gulp that was big enough for him to choke on. When he regained control of his throat, he gave me a frank look.
“This is bad news.”
“For you or for Jenn?”
“I think for both of us. Definitely for me. And I thought definitely for her.”
“You thought? Did she change her mind?”
He shrugged and pulled out another cigarette. I hoped he wouldn’t hesitate too much longer. He was drunk, he was open and this was the only time I was going to get him to talk.
“I don’t know,” he said, lighting his cigarette, the stick bobbing up and down between his lips. “I guess she got thinking.”
“Didn’t you? I mean, when you found out?”
“Yeah. I got thinking. I got thinking about a lot of things.”
“Such as?” Oh please Dex, don’t make this as difficult as pulling teeth.
He didn’t say anything for a beat or two, just took a couple of drags on his cigarette. The alcohol allowed me to be more patient than usual. I waited, hands folded across the table, making sure I never lost the expectant look on my face.
Finally he said, “I got thinking about how I’m not ready to be a dad. How I’ll never be ready to be a dad. How…retarded the word dad sounds. How can I be a dad? I’d be the worst dad in the world. I’d fuck up that kid, whatever kid, so badly…I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So there’s that. That’s the unselfish part. And then there is the selfish part. The part that says, I don’t want to fucking deal with that shit. If I had a kid…my life would change so much.”
“Maybe for the better?” I said, playing the Devil’s Advocate.
He shook his head. “No. Not with us.”
“But…your life is going to change so much.”
My words seemed to hit him like the pile of bricks I felt earlier. He cringed, just for a moment, and sucked back on that cigarette like it was the only thing keeping him sane. It might have been.
“I know. And I thought…I thought maybe it wouldn’t have to.”
“She was going to have an abortion?”
He nodded uneasily, maybe unsure of how I would react. It was a hard topic to talk about in this divided country.
“We had decided that if she was pregnant, she could just take the…abortion pill, I guess. I don’t know the name. Or we would just go to a clinic. She didn’t want a kid screwing up her career, or her body, I should say. As much as I didn’t want one screwing up our relationship.”
Huh. He was more worried about a baby screwing up their relationship than anything else. That was interesting. I wasn’t sure in what way yet.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged with effort. “Something happened. She told me last night when she found out that she wanted to keep it. And that if I didn’t want to have any part in it, I didn’t have to. She didn’t need me. If I’m not 100% in it, then I am not needed.”
We both seemed to mull that part over.
“And you told her you still wanted the abortion?”
“Well. Yeah. I mean, I’m not pressuring her. It’s her body, she can do what she wants. I will support her no matter what she chooses. But you know…I just don’t know why she changed her mind. I would have thought finding out for sure would have, you know, cemented her fears even more. But then she just…switched. Just like that. One extreme to the other.”
“An abortion isn’t an easy thing to deal with,” I offered quietly. “It can ruin you in ways you never thought.”
“Mmhmmm, and how would you know?” he said asked, pursing his lips defensively.
I wasn’t sure if I should say the truth right now or not, but I had nothing to lose. Dex had everything to lose here.
“Because I had one.”
The truth felt like it was laden with iron. And it was something I had never told anyone else. I never told Ada, had never told my friends, never told my boyfriend, never told my parents. It had been inside me all this time, tucked away deep.
Dex’s eyes widened, and then softened at the vulnerability I knew I couldn’t help but exude. There was no hiding it now.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
“No one knows.”
He swallowed hard and put out the cigarette on the table. We watched the ash spew out from the twisting butt.
“When was this? Sorry if I’m being too...”
“No, it’s fine. I think…I think it would be good for me to talk about it. It was with Mason, ironically.”
“The jackfuck who cheated on you?” he asked, holding out the bottle for me.