“I mean,” she went on, stepping back and tucking her paper under her arm, “he can be real sweet, but he’s treated a lot of girls pretty badly. Like my friend Rachel, he really used her and then never talks to her anymore. Stuff like that.”
“Yeah, well,” I said, trying to get around her but she wasn’t moving, just standing there with her eyes right on me.
“I got to know him really well when I was with Michael.” She said his name slowly, so I’d be sure to get it. “I just didn’t know if you knew what he was like. With girls and all.”
I didn’t know what to say, how to defend myself, so I just stepped around her, knocking my shoulder against a shelf just to slip by.
“I just thought you should know, before you get too involved,” she called after me. “I mean—I would want to know.”
I burst out into the classroom. When I looked back she was still watching me, standing by the paper cutter talking with Ginny Tabor, who practically had radar for these kinds of confrontations. I threw my paper down next to Scarlett and pulled out my chair.
“You would not believe what just happened to me,” I said. “I was in the supply room, and—”
I didn’t get any further than that, because she suddenly pushed her chair back, clapped a hand over her mouth, and ran toward the bathroom.
“Scarlett?” Mrs. Pate, our teacher, was a little high-Strung; outbursts made her nervous. She was supervising the paper cutter, making sure no one lost any fingers. “Halley, is she okay?”
“She’s got the flu,” I said. “I’ll go check on her.”
“Good,” Mrs. Pate said, redirecting her attention to Michelle Long, who was about to sever at least half her hand with slap-dash cutting behavior. “Michelle, wait. Look at what you’re about to do. Can you see that? Can you?”
I found Scarlett in the last stall against the wall, kneeling on the floor. I wet some paper towels at the sink and handed them to her, then said, “It’s gonna get better.”
She sniffled, wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve. I felt so sorry for her. “Are we alone?” she asked.
I walked down the row of stalls, checking underneath for feet, and saw none. It was just us, the deep blue cinderblock of the girls’ bathroom, and a dripping faucet.
She leaned back on her heels, dabbing her face with the wet paper towel. “This,” she said in a choked voice, sniffling, “is the worst.”
“I know,” I said, telling myself not to talk about Month Four or the joy of birth or the little life inside of her, all things that had failed me in the past. “I know.”
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, closing her eyes. “It’s like, whenever I used to see pregnant women, they always looked happy. Glowing, right? Or on TV, in those big dresses, knitting baby afghans. No one ever tells you it makes you fat and sick and crazy. And I’m only three months along, Halley. It’s just going to get worse.”
“The doctor said—” I started, but she cut me off, waving her hand.
“It’s not about that,” she said softly, and she was crying again. “It would be different if Michael was here or I was married with a husband. Marion doesn’t even want me to have this baby, Halley. It’s not like she’s being that supportive. This is all me, you know? I’m on my own. And it’s scary.”
“You are not on your own,” I said forcefully. “I’m here, aren’t I? I’ve been holding your head while you get sick and bringing you saltines and letting you crab like crazy at me. I’m doing everything a husband or anyone would do for you.”
“It’s not the same.” In the fluorescent light her face seemed paler than ever. “I miss him so much. This fall has been so hard.”
“I know it,” I said. “You’ve been really strong, Scarlett.”
“If he was here, I don’t even know what might have happened between us. We were only together for a summer, you know? Maybe he would have turned out to be a major jerk. I’ll never know. But when it gets like this, and I’m miserable, all I can think is that he might have made everything okay. That he was the only one who understood. Ever.”
I knelt down next to her. “We can do this,” I said firmly. “I know we can.”
She sniffled. “What about childbirth classes? What about when I have to give birth and it hurts, and all that? What about money? How am I going to support a whole other person scanning groceries at Milton’s?”
“We’ve already talked about that,” I said. “You have that trust your grandparents put aside, you’ll use that.”
“That’s for college,” she moaned. “Specifically.”
“Oh, fine,” I said, “you’re right. College is much more important right now. This is your baby, Scarlett. You have to hold it together because it needs you.”
“My baby,” she repeated, her voice hollow in the cool deep blue of the stall. “My baby.”
Then I heard it: the creak of a door opening, not the outside door either but closer, just behind me. I turned, already dreading what I’d see. A set of feet I’d somehow missed, belonging to somebody who now had heard everything. But it was worse than that. Much worse.
“Oh, my God,” Ginny Tabor said as I turned to face her, standing there in a white sweater, her mouth a perfect O. “Oh, my God.”
Scarlett closed her eyes, lifting her hands to her face. I could hear the lights buzzing. No one said anything.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Ginny said quickly, already backing up to the door, her eyes twitchy and weird. “I swear. I won’t.”
“Ginny—” I started. “It’s not—”
“I won’t tell,” she said in a louder voice, backing up too far and banging against the door, her hand feeling wildly for the knob. “I swear,” she said again, slipping out as it fell closed between us, a flash of white all I saw before she was gone.
By lunch we were getting strange looks as we walked to Macon’s car. Everyone seemed to be eyeing Scarlett’s stomach, as if since second period she’d suddenly be showing, the baby ready to pop out at any minute. We ate lunch in the Toyota, parked in the Zip Mart lot around back by the Dumpsters.
“It’s weird,” Scarlett said, finishing off her second hot dog, “but since I know everybody knows now, I’m starving.”