This story is by Jason Gretencord and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The steady tone of medical equipment contrasted with the erratic shuffle of the uniformed bodies surrounding us.
“One !”a voice called out from behind a mask. I was seated in a chair that had a texture like a pizza case. I was sixteen, putting my new driver’s license to work at my first job. My car was parked outside the client’s house. I grabbed the insulated satchel and made my way to the porch, but I did not reach the door as I tripped over one of the stairs. The case few out of my grip and slammed into the screen door with a thunderous report. I stood, panting as I adjusted my shirt. The front door opened slowly, and she appeared.
“Kelly?” I said. I knelt down and snatched the bag off the ground.
“Jerry, It’s you!” she said Kelly stepped forward and hugged me with a foot pop. A spot of green was on her arm. I hoped that I wasn’t sweaty as I had been delivering pizzas in the summer heat for the last few hours.
“Green olives, as always,” I said. I reached into the pizza bag and removed the box. It was upside down, causing me to drop it. I doubled over with chagrin, as the pizza splattered on the porch.
“It’s okay, Jerry. I can clean that up later,” she said, punctuating her statement with a pat on the back. “Hey! Why don’t you come in!” I followed her into the house. The interior was full of boxes. The walls were mallard green with unpainted white splotches. Fans directed the paint fumes out of open windows. “Have a seat,” Kelly said, removing the covering from a couch and bouncing onto one of the cushions. I looked at the covered furniture and decided to sit on the sofa with her on the opposite end.
“You never told me you moved back into town.”
“I was going to, but we just moved in a couple days ago.”
“I see.” I studied her up close and began to appreciate how much she had grown. She still, but she had definitely matured since they had last spoken in person. I brushed that thought aside as we conversed about everything that had been going on for the past few weeks. She walked around the room in circles as our conversation ensued. My pocket rustled. I took out my cell phone and answered with trepidation.
“Where are you?” my manager’s voice was so loud that the connection was garbled with feedback. “Get back now or you are fired!” I turned off the phone and said goodbye to Kelly.
She stopped me in the door frame, “Wait!”
“What is it?” I suppressed my urgency.
“We should meet sometime later.:
“Yeah!” I bolted out the door. Outside, I took a single step, and groaned as my foot sank into something warm and squishy. Back at the store, my boss was fuming. “Where have you been?” He did not wait for an answer as he pointed to my foot. “Did you step in the pizza? You’re fired!”
Shreds of mozzarella clung to the bottom of my sneaker. At least he didn’t notice that I forgot to collect the money.
That was a short lived job. I never liked that supervisor anyway. It took me quite a few tries to find myself a stable job. Kelly has not had a job yet, because she’s determined to get into med school as rapidly as possible.
“Three centimeters,” a nurse in floppy blue scrubs announced.
We fulfilled our promise to hang out. Four days later, Kelly and I stood at the side of the beach. Under a bright orange sky, some swimmers clipped through the ocean as a pelican scooped water into its voluminous bill. She kept hopping around as we caught up on various subjects, bare legs free-styling her striped magenta foot bag. Years ago I learned to filter out her gratuitous motions during our conversations like the panels of a comic book or the aliasing on a computer screen, but on this day I found myself watching her constant kicks and pivots. It was rather late, so we stopped at a diner close to the shore, outfitted with boating and surfing related imagery. When it was time to order, the waitress appeared and asked whether we were together. I stammered until Kelly interceded. “Two checks,” she said. I put the thought aside as two plates of steaming seafood emerged from the kitchen.
“Four centimeters!” Kelly squirmed and grunted next to me. She squeezed my hand. Over the next two years, I was not entirely sure what our relationship status was until my freshman year in college, when a threshold event occurred during a Halloween party. Oddly, neither of us really talked about the incident afterward. I was all too happy to circumnavigate the subject entirely. I had plenty of schoolwork and extracurricular matters to absorb my attention.
Two weeks after that night, Kelly called me after class. She said she wanted to show me something at her apartment. I dropped by after cleaning my dorm room. My friend stood in the living room, feet planted on the floor, still as a corpse. A partially eaten pizza sat in an open box on a table with jet black olives.
“Where have you been?”
“I don’t know. I had stuff to do.”
“You need to see this!”
“What,” I said. She held up a white tube. Two pink streaks were on it. I took the pregnancy test and contemplated it. “You are secreting human chorionic gonadotropin?”
“Despite the countermeasures.”
“You messed it up!”
“Not necessarily. Even when properly used, contraceptives can fail.”
“Whatever. What am I going to do about this?”
“You know there are options.”
She cut me off, “No! I mean you.”
“I thought you loved me.”
“Of course I do, but do you have what it takes to be a father?”
“Apparently,” I said.
“This is no time for jokes! I’m almost done with pre-med, and you haven’t even declared a major yet.”
“Science is vast. It’s difficult to choose.”
“That’s exactly what I mean. You bumble, you waffle, you fly in the face of commitment, you’re easily distracted, and you fear just about everything!” Her voice changed inflection, “I want to ask you one question. Are you going to be there for me through this, or are you going to run from this like you shirk everything else in your life?”
Her diatribe stung asI pondered a crushing life of obligations. Always running ahead of poverty. Constant judgement about how I well we were raising the child. One mistake could end in death. I looked into Kelly’s eyes, turned away, and walked back to my dorm room on the verge of hyperventilation. I barely moved for the next two days, but on the third morning, I gathered my resolve, positioned myself, and Kelly’s number on my cell.
“Have you made your decision?”
“Yes, I have?”
“Well, what is it?”
I knocked on the door. She opened. I wrapped my arms around her, and she kissed me on the cheek.
“I thought you’d never come back.”
“I wouldn’t leave you,” I said. I visited her regularly and supported her through almost a year of physician’s visits, parenting classes, and the physical and mental changes that accompanied pregnancy.
“Dialation has reached ten centmeters! Effacement is one hundred percent. Delivery is go!” the obstetrician stated. Kelly started screaming. I was screaming back.
I been never been so frightened.
And that was okay.
The delivery ended rapidly and relatively easily. After our baby was cleaned, inspected and given an Apgar score of ten, he was presented to me. Kelly was slumbering in the recovery room. I held him and smiled at the vulnerable pink organism and his unfocused blue eyes. I looked at him and said, “Hi, son. You’re not moving very much. Perhaps you’ll take after your dad.” I rocked the sleepy infant and whispered, “This is the start of your childhood, and the end of mine.”