As soon as Mildred arrived, I deflated and collapsed into her arms. We stood at the door like that for a while. She held me and I just hung on her like an old t-shirt over the back of the chair where you throw all your dirty laundry when you’re depressed.
She walked me into the living room and sat me down on the couch, and then she walked into the kitchen without a word to begin making tea. I felt like I had been holding myself together for so long, seeing her had allowed me to release. I felt empty, numb, and void of any thoughts now. All I contained was a dull sense of dread in the darkest corner of my mind. I stared at the carpet, but I didn’t really process what I was looking at. I couldn’t think or even see what was in front of me. In my mind’s eye, I began seeing the tidal wave of babies from the dream. It played on repeat. Or maybe it was more like a broken record, unable to play more than that one horrifying snippet.
When she came back, Mildred had a cup of Earl Grey for me. She slid one of my navy blue leather coasters toward me, then she set the teacup down on top of it. I looked from the carpet to the cup to her face.
“I’m pregnant,” I said, finally breaking the silence.
“I know, honey,” she said.
She left and came back with her own cup of tea. Once she had a coaster and had set the cup down, she turned to face me on the couch. She was wearing a fuzzy white sweater and black leggings. Her sweater was so fluffy and it made her look like a stuffed animal. I reached for her arm and touched her sleeve, enjoying the softness. She let me touch it for a moment and then she took my hand into her own.
“It’s going to be okay though,” she said. “You know that, right?”
“Hah,” I said. “I mean, that’s easy for you to say, you’re not the one incubating a crotch goblin.”
She laughed a bit. Then she took her hand from mine and used it to tip my chin up so I had to look her in the face.
“What I mean is, whatever happens, I’ll be here for you. We’re best friends, that’s what best friends do,” she said. “If you keep it, I’ll help you figure it out. If you decide not to keep it, I’ll help you get through that too. It’s genuinely going to be okay. Okay?”
I looked at her for a long time before I said anything. Mildred was always the nice one out of the two of us. She was beautiful and gentle. She had long red hair and light green eyes that made her look angelic to me. Even in middle school, when she was one of the most popular girls in our year, she was so kind to me. I was the weird kid — the artsy kid who wore too much black clothing and heavy eyeliner to be considered conventionally pretty. I wasn’t all that nice either. I had a chip on my shoulder and my mother said it, “Took the grace out of my face.” I think she was trying to tell me it made me less pretty to have a foul mouth. But I always knew I was pretty, plenty of people often reminded me of that. It’s just that I’m a hard kind of pretty. My features are angular and dark. Mildred is soft and light, airy and feminine, like a wildflower or a butterfly. She’s non-threatening and warm, I guess that’s why she always makes me feel better.
“Okay,” I said. I did believe her. At least, I believed she would be there with me, even if things weren’t actually okay.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” she asked.
We were sitting facing each other on the couch, both of us with our legs crossed. I felt exposed by the intimacy of how close we were sitting. She leaned toward me and the way she was looking at me was so attentive, and I started to feel uneasy. It was because I didn’t want to tell the truth. I knew I should want to tell her everything, but I didn’t. I put my arms across my belly and hugged myself. Instead of only telling her how it was when I found out, I should have been trying to tell her how it happened too. But even though I knew telling her the truth was the right thing to do, I also knew it was impossible. It felt like telling someone about how this baby was made would somehow taint everything about them. Maybe it would make the baby evil, or it would make the circumstances surrounding their birth so sad and dark, that none of us would be able to love them the same way as we would if we’d never known. If I kept all that inside me, I thought, then no one could look at that baby and see a reminder of the horrible way it was forced into this world. Maybe even I could forget.
“I was feeling sick — really fuckin’ sick, for like a few days — so I went to the doctor. He acted like an asshole.”
“Sounds like doctor behaviour,” she said.
“Then today they called me and they told me I was pregnant. I threw up on the kitchen floor,” I said. “I think it was my body trying to expel what I had just heard. Like it could get rid of the pregnancy through my mouth if my stomach heaved hard enough.”
Mildred smiled a bit. I think she knew I was trying to joke about it because I was scared. She took my hand again.
“Do you know who the dad is?” she asked.
For some reason, I had imagined her avoiding that question. Naive, I know, but I couldn’t help but engage in some wishful thinking, because the last thing I wanted to do was tell her who the father was. She hated the father — and she’d hate him even more now.
“It’s him,” I said.
“Him?” she said. “Like, him-him?”
“Jesus. No. You said you weren’t going to see him again.” She looked so disappointed in me. Almost on the verge of tears, really. I knew all too well why she felt like that about him, and why she’d look at me like that.
“I wasn’t going to, but he said he wanted to apologize. He said he just wanted to meet and talk about how things ended. He said I deserved some closure and he wanted to apologize to my face for what went down on the final night I was there. And then…I guess…”
I could feel how tense my forehead was, and I realized I had a hard scowl on my face. I tried to relax my brow intentionally, but I found it difficult. My brows just wiggled a bit. I’d have to surrender to the scowl.
“What?” she said. She sounded worried. “What happened?” she asked.
“One thing led to another,” I said. I tried to instill my voice with a tone that asked her to drop the subject. She wouldn’t. I knew that.
“And?” she said.
“And we did it,” I replied.
She stared at me for what felt like forever.
“What are you not telling me?” she asked. “You have ‘something’ face.” She pointed at my face. “There’s something else.”
Then it was my turn to stare at her.
“What is it?” she repeated.
I continued to stare.
“Nothing — it just wasn’t good. He was too rough again, and so when it was over, I just left.”
“Too rough, what does that mean?” she asked.
I pulled my hand out of hers slowly and carefully. The idea of what had really happened, and the intense way she was staring at me, made me feel like I didn’t want to be touched.
“It means he did that weird thing. He tried to choke me during the whole—the whole thing, and I didn’t like it. So, when it was over, I felt uncomfortable, and I left before he could apologize.”
She looked at me as if she didn’t believe me. Her eyes evaluated me with benign skepticism, and even when I looked away I could still feel the weight of her gaze on me. If I’m being honest, I hate disappointing her. Of all the people in my life, her opinion means the most to me.
“That’s what happened?” she said. She didn’t sound convinced at all.
“That’s it?” she said. “Nothing else happened?”
Another long pause.
“Well, I’m glad you got out of there before anything got too serious,” she said. But it was obvious she trying to bait me into telling her something serious did happen by pretending she thought it wasn’t a big deal. “You shouldn’t see him alone. If you ever go and see him again, please bring someone with you.”
“I will,” I said. She was obviously right. I should have brought someone with me. Really, I should never have gone to see him in the first place. But, it’s not that simple. You don’t just tell someone like him no. He’s more dangerous when you deny him something than he is if you just give in and let him have it. Like a child. You take away his toys, and he has a temper tantrum. Except when a toddler gets violent, you’re usually not in any real danger.
“Sorry,” I said. I looked down. I knew I looked ashamed and I did. And I also felt like I was to blame for what happened. I hadn’t made him do it, I knew that, but I had chosen to go there.
“You don’t have to apologize to me. I just want you to be safe,” she said. “He’s not safe. Especially for you.”
“I know. I won’t see him again,” I said.
When she dropped the subject I was so relieved that I couldn’t help but let out a heavy sigh. I put my face in my hands and started rubbing my eyes as I tried to relieve the tension that was building up in my forehead. She had bought the story I had given her, I thought, and she had let it drop. That was all I could ask for at that moment. The very last thing I wanted to do that day was get into the drama of the truth. I could save that for my deathbed, when telling her would have no consequences and I could escape her wrath immediately and forever. She was never mean when she was disappointed or angry, but seeing her looks of disapproval made my stomach ache.
Mildred spent the night with me that night, and I was happy not to be alone. I didn’t get any sleep — I have an impossible time sleeping when someone else is in the bed with me — but just being there with her, knowing someone cared enough to come and stay, was better than sleep. It was the first time I hadn’t felt alone in months — I would have traded any amount of sleep for that.
Story fanatic. Published in the Camosun College literary journal Beside the Point. Former Senior Staff Writer at The Martlet. Current and future freelance writer.