Now that it was Month Five, there was no hiding anymore that Scarlett was pregnant. With her stomach protruding and her face always flushed, even the drab green Milton’s Market apron couldn’t keep her secret. The first week of December, she got called in to talk to Mr. Averby. I went along for moral support.
“Now, Scarlett.” Mr. Averby looked over his desk and smiled at us. He was about my dad’s age, with a bald spot he tried to cover with creative combing. “I couldn’t help but notice that you have some, uh, news.”
“News?” Scarlett said. She had this little game she played with people; she liked to make them say it.
“Yes, well, what I mean is that it’s come to my attention—I mean, I’ve noticed—that you seem to be expecting.”
“Expecting,” Scarlett said, nodding. “I’m pregnant.”
“Right,” he said quickly. He looked like he might start sweating. “So, I just wondered, if there was anything we should discuss concerning this.”
“I don’t think so,” Scarlett said, shifting her weight in the chair. She could never get comfortable anymore. “Do you?”
“Well, no, but I do think that it should be acknowledged, because there might be problems, with the position, that someone in your condition might have.” He was having a hard time getting it out, clearly, that he was worried about what the customers might think of a pregnant sixteen-year-old checkout girl at Milton’s, Your Family Supermarket. That it was a bad example. Or bad business. Or something.
“I don’t think so,” Scarlett said cheerfully. “The doctor says it’s fine for me to be on my feet, as long as it’s not full time. And my work won’t be affected, Mr. Averby.”
“She’s a very good worker,” I said, jumping in. “Employee of the Month in August.”
“That’s right.” Scarlett grinned at me. She’d already told me she wouldn’t quit for anything, not even to save Milton’s embarrassment. And they couldn’t fire her. It was against the law; she knew that from her Teen Mothers Support Group.
“You are a very good worker,” Mr. Averby said, and now he was shifting around in his seat like he couldn’t get comfortable either. “I just didn’t know how you felt about keeping up your hours now. If you wanted to cut back or discuss other options or—”
“Nope. Not at all. I’m perfectly happy,” Scarlett said, cutting him off. “But I really appreciate your consideration.”
Now Mr. Averby just looked tired, beaten. Resigned. “Okay,” he said. “Then I guess that’s that. Thanks for coming in, Scarlett, and please let me know if you have any problems.”
“Thanks,” she said, and we stood up together and walked out of the office, shutting the door behind us. We made it through Bulk Foods and Cereal before she started giggling and had to stop and rest.
“Poor guy,” I said as she bent over, still cackling. “He never knew what hit him.”
“Nope. He thought I’d be glad to leave.” She leaned against the rows of imported coffees, catching her breath. “I’m not ashamed, Halley. I know I’m doing the right thing and they can’t make me think any different.”
“I know you are,” I said, and I wondered again why the right thing always seemed to be met with so much resistance, when you’d think it would be the easier path. You had to fight to be virtuous, or so I was noticing.
As December came, and everything was suddenly green and red and tinseled, and holiday music pounded in my ears at work, “Jingle Bells” again and again and again, I still hadn’t made any real decision about Macon. The only reason I was getting out of it was the pure fact that we hadn’t seen each other much, except in school, which was the one place I didn’t have to worry about things going too far. I was working extra holiday shifts at Milton’s and busy with Scarlett, too. She needed me more than ever. I drove her to doctor’s appointments, pushed the cart at Baby Superstore while she priced cribs and strollers, and went out more than once late in the evening for chocolate-raspberry ice cream when it was cru cially needed. I even sat with her as she wrote draft after draft of a letter to Mrs. Sherwood at her new address in Florida, each one beginning with You don’t know me, but. That was the easy part. The rest was harder.
Macon was busy, too. He was always ducking out of school early or not showing up at all, calling me for two-minute conversations at all hours where he always had to hang up suddenly. He couldn’t come to my house or even drop me off down the street because it was too risky. My mother didn’t mention him much; she assumed her rules were being followed. She was busy with her work and arranging Grandma Halley’s move into another facility, anyway.
“It’s just that he’s different,” I complained to Scarlett as we sat on her bed reading magazines one afternoon. I was reading Elle; she, Working Mother. Cameron was downstairs making Kool-Aid, Scarlett’s newest craving. He put so much sugar in it, it gave you a headache, but it was just the way she liked it. “It’s not like it was.”
“Halley,” she said. “You read Cosmo. You know that no relationship stays in that giddy stage forever. This is normal.”
“Yes,” she said, flipping another page. “Completely.”
There were still a few times that month, as Christmas bore down on us, when I had to stop him as his hand moved further toward what I hadn’t decided to sign over just yet. Twice at his house, on Friday nights as we lay in his bed, so close it seemed inevitable. Once in the car, parked by the lake, when it was cold and he pulled away from me suddenly, shaking his head in the dark. It wasn’t just him, either. It was getting harder for me, too.
“Do you love him?” Scarlett asked me one day after I told her of this last incident. We were at Milton’s, sitting on the loading dock for our break, surrounded by packs upon packs of tomato juice.
“Yes,” I said. I’d never said it, but I did.
“Does he love you?”
“Yes,” I said, fudging a bit.
It didn’t work. She took another bite of her bagel and said, “Has he told you that?”
“No. Not exactly.”
She sat back, not saying any more. Her point, I assumed, was made.
“But that’s such a cliché,” I said. “I mean, Do you love me. Like that means anything. Like if he did say it, then I should sleep with him, and if he didn’t, I shouldn’t.”